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The Thirteenth Tribe 

Arthur Koestler 


ARTHUR KOESTLER was born in 1905 in Budapest. Though he studied science and psy- 
chology in Vienna, at the age of twenty he became a foreign correspondent and worked 
for various European newspapers in the Middle East, Paris, Berlin, Russia and Spain. 
During the Spanish Civil War, which he covered from the Republican side, he was captured 
and imprisoned for several months by the Nationalists, but was exchanged after international 
protest. In 193940 he was interned in a French detention camp. After his release, due to 
British government intervention, he joined the French Foreign Legion, subsequently escaped 
to England, and joined the British Army. 

Like many other intellectuals in the thirties, Koestler saw in the Soviet experiment the only 
hope and alternative to fascism. He became a member of the Communist Party in 1931, but 
left it in disillusionment during the Moscow purges in 1938. His earlier books were mainly 
concerned with these experiences, either in autobiographical form or in essays or political 
novels. Among the latter, Darkness At Noon has been translated into thirty-three languages, 

After World War 11, Mr. Koestler became a British citizen, and all his books since 1940 
have been written in English, He now lives in London, but he frequently lectures at American 
universities, and was a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at 
Stanford in 1964-65, 

In 1968 Mr. Koestler received the Sonning Prize at the University of Copenhagen for his 
contributions to European culture. He is also a Commander of the Order of the British Empire, 
as well as one of the ten Companions of Literature, elected by the Royal Society of Literature. 
His works are now being republished in a collected edition of twenty volumes. 

The Thirteenth Tribe 

Arthur Koes tier 



"In Khazaria, sheep, honey, and Jews exist in large quantities." 

Muqaddasi, Descriptio Imperii Moslemici (tenth century). 


ABOUT the time when Charlemagne was crowned Emperor of the West, the eastern con- 
fines of Europe between the Caucasus and the Volga were ruled by a Jewish state, 
known as the Khazar Empire. At the peak of its power, from the seventh to the tenth cen- 
turies AD, it played a significant part in shaping the destinies of mediaeval, and consequently 
of modern, Europe. The Byzantine Emperor and historian, Constantine Porphyrogenitus (913- 
959), must have been well aware of this when he recorded in his treatise on court protocol. 1 
that letters addressed to the Pope in Rome, and similarly those to the Emperor of the West, 
had a gold seal worth two solidi attached to them, whereas messages to the King of the 
Khazars displayed a seal worth three solidi. This was not flattery, but Realpolitik. "In the 
period with which we are concerned," wrote Bury, "it is probable that the Khan of the Khazars 
was of little less importance in view of the imperial foreign policy than Charles the Great and 
his successors.". 2 

The country of the Khazars, a people of Turkish stock, occupied a strategic key position at 
the vital gateway between the Black Sea and the Caspian, where the great eastern powers of 
the period confronted each other. It acted as a buffer protecting Byzantium against invasions 
by the lusty barbarian tribesmen of the northern steppes - Bulgars, Magyars, Pechenegs, etc. 
- and, later, the Vikings and the Russians. But equally, or even more important both from the 
point of view of Byzantine diplomacy and of European history, is the fact that the Khazar 
armies effectively blocked the Arab avalanche in its most devastating early stages, and thus 
prevented the Muslim conquest of Eastern Europe. Professor Dunlop of Columbia University, 
a leading authority on the historyof the Khazars, has givena concise summary of this decisive 
yet virtually unknown episode: 

The Khazar country . . . lay across the natural line of advance of the Arabs. 
Within a few years of the death of Muhammad (AD 632) the armies of the 
Caliphate, sweeping northward through the wreckage of two empires and carry- 
ing all before them, reached the great mountain barrier of the Caucasus. This 
barrier once passed, the road lay open to the lands of eastern Europe. As it 
was, on the line of the Caucasus the Arabs met the forces of an organized mili- 
tary power which effectively prevented them from extending their conquests in 
this direction. The wars of the Arabs and the Khazars, which lasted more than 
a hundred years, though little known, have thus considerable historical impor- 
tance. The Franks of Charles Martel on the field of Tours turned the tide of Arab 
invasion. At about the same time the threat to Europe in the east was hardly 
less acute . . . The victorious Muslims were met and held by the forces of the 
Khazar kingdom . . . It can . . . scarcely be doubted that but for the existence of 
the Khazars in the region north of the Caucasus, Byzantium, the bulwark of 
European civilization in the east, would have found itself outflanked by the 
Arabs, and the history of Christendom and Islam might well have been very dif- 
ferent from what we know. 3 

It is perhaps not surprising, given these circumstances, that in 732 - after a resounding 
Khazar victory over the Arabs - the future Emperor Constantine V married a Khazar princess. 
In due time their son became the Emperor Leo IV, known as Leo the Khazar. 

Ironically, the last battle in the war, AD 737, ended in a Khazar defeat. But by that time the 

impetus of the Muslim Holy War was spent, the Caliphate was rocked by internal dissensions, 
and the Arab invaders retraced their steps across the Caucasus without having gained a per- 
manent foothold in the north, whereas the Khazars became more powerful than they had pre- 
viously been. 

A few years later, probably AD 740, the King, his court and the military ruling class 
embraced the Jewish faith, and Judaism became the state religion of the Khazars. No doubt 
their contemporaries were as astonished by this decision as modern scholars were when they 
came across the evidence in the Arab, Byzantine, Russian and Hebrew sources. One of the 
most recent comments is to be found in a work by the Hungarian Marxist historian, Dr Antal 
Bartha. His book on The Magyar Society in the Eighth and Ninth Centuries 4 has several chap- 
ters on the Khazars, as during most of that period the Hungarians were ruled by them. Yet 
their conversion to J udaism is discussed in a single paragraph, with obvious embarrassment. 
It reads: 

Our investigations cannot go into problems pertaining to the history of ideas, 
but we must call the reader's attention to the matter of the Khazar kingdom's 
state religion. It was the Jewish faith which became the official religion of the 
ruling strata of society. Needless to say, the acceptance of the Jewish faith as 
the state religion of an ethnically nonjewish people could be the subject of 
interesting speculations. We shall, however, confine ourselves to the remark 
that this official conversion - in defiance of Christian proselytizing by 
Byzantium, the Muslim influence from the East, and in spite of the political 
pressure of these two powers - to a religion which had no support from any 
political power, but was persecuted by nearly all - has come as a surprise to all 
historians concerned with the Khazars, and cannot be considered as acciden- 
tal, but must be regarded as a sign of the independent policy pursued by that 

Which leaves us only slightly more bewildered than before. Yet whereas the sources differ 
in minor detail, the major facts are beyond dispute. 

What is in dispute is the fate of the J ewish Khazars after the destruction of their empire, in 
the twelfth or thirteenth century. On this problem the sources are scant, but various late medi- 
aeval Khazar settlements are mentioned in the Crimea, in the Ukraine, in Hungary, Poland and 
Lithuania. The general picture that emerges from these fragmentary pieces of information is 
that of a migration of Khazar tribes and communities into those regions of Eastern Europe - 
mainly Russia and Poland - where, at the dawn of the Modern Age, the greatest concentra- 
tions of Jews were found. This has lead several historians to conjecture that a substantial 
part, and perhaps the majority of eastern Jews - and hence of world Jewry - might be of 
Khazar, and not of Semitic Origin. 

The far-reaching implications of this hypothesis may explain the great caution exercised by 
historians in approaching this subject - if they do not avoid it altogether. Thus in the 1973 
edition of the Encyclopaedia J udaica the article "Khazars" is signed by Dunlop, but there is a 
separate section dealing with "Khazar Jews after the Fall of the Kingdom", signed by the edi- 
tors, and written with the obvious intent to avoid upsetting believers in the dogma of the 
Chosen Race: 

The Turkish-speaking Karaites [a fundamentalist Jewish sect] of the Crimea, 
Poland, and elsewhere have affirmed a connection with the Khazars, which is 
perhaps confirmed by evidence from folklore and anthropology as well as lan- 
guage. There seems to be a considerable amount of evidence attesting to the 
continued presence in Europe of descendants of the Khazars. 

How important, in quantitative terms, is that "presence" of the Caucasian sons ofjapheth 
in the tents of Shem? One of the most radical propounders of the hypothesis concerning the 
Khazar origins of Jewry is the Professor of 

Mediaeval Jewish History at Tel Aviv University, A. N. Poliak. His book Khazaria (in Hebrew) 
was published in 1944 in Tel Aviv, and a second edition in 1951. 5 In his introduction he writes 
that the facts demand - 

a new approach, both to the problem of the relations between the Khazar Jewry 
and other Jewish communities, and to the question of how far we can go in 
regarding this [Khazar] Jewry as the nucleus of the large Jewish settlement in 
Eastern Europe . . . The descendants of this settlement - those who stayed 
where they were, those who emigrated to the United States and to other coun- 
tries, and those who went to Israel - constitute now the large majority of world 

This was written before the full extent of the holocaust was known, but that does not alter 
the fact that the large majority of surviving Jews in the world is of Eastern European - and 
thus perhaps mainly of Khazar - origin. If so, this would mean that their ancestors came not 
from the Jordan but from the Volga, not from Canaan but from the Caucasus, once believed to 
be the cradle of the Aryan race; and that genetically they are more closely related to the Hun, 
Uigur and Magyar tribes than to the seed of Ab raham, Isaac and J acob. Should this turn out 


to be the case, then the term "anti-Semitism" would become void of meaning, based on a 
misapprehension shared by both the killers and their victims. The story of the Khazar Empire, 
as it slowly emerges from the past, begins to look like the most cruel hoax which history has 
ever perpetrated. 


"Attila was, after all, merely the king of a kingdom of tents. His state passed 
away - whereas the despised city of Constantinople remained a power. The 
tents vanished, the towns remained. The Hun state was a whirlwind ..." 

Thus Cassel, 6 a nineteenth-century orientalist, implying that the Khazars shared, for simi- 
lar reasons, a similar fate. Yet the Hun presence on the European scene lasted a mere 
eighty years, (From circa 372, when the Huns first started to move westward from the 
steppes north of the Caspian, to the death of Attila in 453), whereas the kingdom of the 
Khazars held its own for the best part of four centuries. They too lived chiefly in tents, but 
they also had large urban settlements, and were in the process of transformation from a tribe 
of nomadic warriors into a nation of farmers, cattle-breeders, fishermen, vine-growers, traders 
and skilled craftsmen. Soviet archaeologists have unearthed evidence for a relatively 
advanced civilization which was altogether different from the "Hun whirlwind". They found the 
traces of villages extending over several miles, 7 with houses connected by galleries to huge 
cattlesheds, sheep-pens and stables (these measured 3-31/2 X 10-14 metres and were 
supported by columns. 8 Some remaining ox-ploughs showed remarkable craftsmanship; so 
did the preserved artefacts - buckles, clasps, ornamental saddle plates. 

Of particular interest were the foundations, sunk into the ground, of houses built in a circu- 
lar shape. 9 According to the Soviet archaeologists, these were found all over the territories 
inhabited by the Khazars, and were of an earlier date than their "normal", rectangular build- 
ings. Obviously the round-houses symbolize the transition from portable, dome- shaped tents 
to permanent dwellings, from the nomadic to a settled, or rather semi-settled, existence. For 
the contemporary Arab sources tell us that the Khazars only stayed in their towns - including 
even their capital, Itil - during the winter; come spring, they packed their tents, left their 
houses and sallied forth with their sheep or cattle into the steppes, or camped in their corn- 
fields or vineyards. 

The excavations also showed that the kingdom was, during its later period, surrounded by 
an elaborate chain of fortifications, dating from the eighth and ninth centuries, which pro- 
tected its northern frontiers facing the open steppes. These fortresses formed a rough semi- 
circular arc from the Crimea (which the Khazars ruled for a time) across the lower reaches of 
the Donetz and the Don to the Volga; while towards the south they were protected by the 
Caucasus, to the west by the Black Sea, and to the east by the "Khazar Sea", the Caspian. 
("To this day, the Muslims, recalling the Arab terror of the Khazar raids, still call the Caspian, 
a sea as shifting as the nomads, and washing to their steppe-land parts, Bahr-ul-Khazar - 
"the Khazar Sea"." (W. E. 0. Allen, A History of the Georgian People, London 1952).) However, 
the northern chain of fortifications marked merely an inner ring, protecting the stable core of 
the Khazar country; the actual boundaries of their rule over the tribes of the north fluctuated 
according to the fortunes of war. At the peak of their power they controlled or exacted tribute 
from some thirty different nations and tribes inhabiting the vast territories between the 
Caucasus, the Aral Sea, the Ural Mountains, the town of Kiev and the Ukrainian steppes. The 
people under Khazar suzerainty included the Bulgars, Burtas, Ghuzz, Magyars (Hungarians), 
the Gothic and Greek colonies of the Crimea, and the Slavonic tribes in the north-western 
woodlands. Beyond these extended dominions, Khazar armies also raided Georgia and 
Armenia and penetrated into the Arab Caliphate as far as Mosul. In the words of the Soviet 
archaeologist M. I. Artamonov: 10 

Until the ninth century, the Khazars had no rivals to their supremacy in the 
regions north of the Black Sea and the adjoining steppe and forest regions of 
the Dnieper. The Khazars were the supreme masters of the southern half of 
Eastern Europe for a century and a hall, and presented a mighty bulwark, block- 
ing the Ural-Caspian gateway from Asia into Europe. During this whole period, 
they held back the onslaught of the nomadic tribes from the East. 

Taking a bird's-eye view of the history of the great nomadic empires of the East, the Khazar 
kingdom occupies an intermediary position in time, size, and degree of civilization between 
the Hun and Avar Empires which preceded, and the Mongol Empire that succeeded it. 


But who were these remarkable people - remarkable as much by their power and achieve- 
ments as by their conversion to a religion of outcasts? The descriptions that have come 
down to us originate in hostile sources, and cannot be taken at face value. "As to the 
Khazars," an Arab chronicler 11 writes, 

"they are to the north of the inhabited earth towards the 7 th clime, having over 
their heads the constellation of the Plough. Their land is cold and wet. 
Accordingly their complexions are white, their eyes blue, their hair flowing and 
predominantly reddish, their bodies large and their natures cold. Their general 
aspect is wild. " 

After a century of warfare, the Arab writer obviously had no great sympathy for the Khazars. 
Nor had the Georgian or Armenian scribes, whose countries, of a much older culture, had 
been repeatedly devastated by Khazar horsemen. A Georgian chronicle, echoing an ancient 
tradition, identifies them with the hosts of Gog and Magog - 

"wild men with hideous faces and the manners of wild beasts, eaters of 
blood". 12 

An Armenian writer refers to 

"the horrible multitude of Khazars with insolent, broad, lashless faces and long 
falling hair, like women". 13 

Lastly, the Arab geographer Istakhri, one of the main Arab sources, has this to say: 14 

"The Khazars do not resemble the Turks. They are black-haired, and are of two 
kinds, one called the Kara-Khazars, [Black Khazars] who are swarthy verging on 
deep black as if they were a kind of Indian, and a white kind [Ak-Khazars], who 
are strikingly handsome.". 

This is more flattering, but only adds to the confusion. For it was customary among Turkish 
peoples to refer to the ruling classes or clans as "white", to the lower strata as "black". Thus 
there is no reason to believe that the "White Bulgars" were whiter than the "Black Bulgars", 
or that the "White Huns" (the Ephtalites) who invaded India and Persia in the fifth and sixth 
centuries were of fairer skin than the other Hun tribes which invaded Europe. Istakhri's black- 
skinned Khazars - as much else in his and his colleagues' writings - were based on hearsay 
and legend; and we are none the wiser regarding the Khazars' physical appearance, or their 
ethnic Origins. 

The last question can only be answered in a vague and general way. But it is equally frus- 
trating to inquire into the origins of the Huns, Alans, Avars, Bulgars, Magyars, Bashkirs, 
Burtas, Sabirs, Uigurs, Saragurs, Onogurs, Utigurs, Kutrigurs, Tarniaks, Kotragars, Khabars, 
Zabenders, Pechenegs, Ghuzz, Kumans, Kipchaks, and dozens of other tribes or people who 
at one time or another in the lifetime of the Khazar kingdom passed through the turnstiles of 
those migratory playgrounds. Even the Huns, of whom we know much more, are of uncertain 
origin; their name is apparently derived from the Chinese Hiung-nu, which designates warlike 
nomads in general, while other nations applied the name Hun in a similarly indiscriminate way 
to nomadic hordes of all kinds, including the "White Huns" mentioned above, the Sabirs, 
Magyars and Khazars. (It is amusing to note that while the British in World War I used the 
term "Hun" in the same pejorative sense, in my native Hungary schoolchildren were taught to 
look up to "our glorious Hun forefathers" with patriotic pride An exclusive rowing club in 
Budapest was called "Hunnia", and Attila is still a popular first name). 

In the first century AD, the Chinese drove these disagreeable Hun neighbours westward, 
and thus started one of those periodic avalanches which swept for many centuries from Asia 
towards the West. From the fifth century onward, many of these westward-bound tribes were 
called by the generic name of "Turks". The term is also supposed to be of Chinese origin 
(apparently derived from the name of a hill) and was subsequently used to refer to all tribes 
who spoke languages with certain common characteristics - the "Turkic" language group. 
Thus the term Turk, in the sense in which it was used by mediaeval writers - and often also by 
modern ethnologists - refers primarily to language and not to race. In this sense the Huns 
and Khazars were "Turkic" people. (But not the Magyars, whose language belongs to the 
Finno-Ugrian language group). The Khazar language was supposedly a Chuvash dialect of 
Turkish, which still survives in the Autonomous Chuvash Soviet Republic, between the Volga 
and the Sura. The Chuvash people are actually believed to be descendants of the Bulgars, 
who spoke a dialect similar to the Khazars. But all these connections are rather tenuous, 
based on the more or less speculative deductions of oriental philologists. All we can say with 
safety is that the Khazars were a "Turkic" tribe, who erupted from the Asian steppes, probably 
in the fifth century of our era. 

The origin of the name Khazar, and the modern derivations to which it gave rise, has also 
been the subject of much ingenious speculation. Most likely the word is derived from the 
Turkish root gaz, "to wander", and simply means "nomad". Of greater interest to the non-spe- 

cialist are some alleged modern derivations from it: among them the Russian Cossack and 
the Hungarian Huszar- both signifying martial horsemen; (Huszar is probably derived via the 
Serbo-Croat from Greek references to Khazars), and also the German Ketzer - heretic, i.e., 
Jew. If these derivations are correct, they would show that the Khazars had a considerable 
impact on the imagination of a variety of peoples in the M iddle Ages. 


Some Persian and Arab chronicles provide an attractive combination of legend and gos- 
sip column. They may start with the Creation and end with stop-press titbits. Thus 
Yakubi, a ninth-century Arab historian, traces the origin of the Khazars back to Japheth, 
third son of Noah. The Japheth motive recurs frequently in the literature, while other legends 
connect them with Abraham or Alexander the Great. 

One of the earliest factual references to the Khazars occurs in a Syriac chronicle by 
"Zacharia Rhetor", (It was actually written by an anonymous compiler and named after an ear- 
lier Greek historian whose work is summarized in the compilation), dating from the middle of 
the sixth century. It mentions the Khazars in a list of people who inhabit the region of the 
Caucasus. Other sources indicate that they were already much in evidence a century earlier, 
and intimately connected with the Huns. In AD 448, the Byzantine Emperor Theodosius II sent 
an embassy to Attila which included a famed rhetorician by name of Priscus. He kept a minute 
account not only of the diplomatic negotiations, but also of the court intrigues and goings-on 
in Attila's sumptuous banqueting hall - he was in fact the perfect gossip columnist, and is 
still one of the main sources of information about Hun customs and habits. But Priscus also 
has anecdotes to tell about a people subject to the Huns whom he calls Akatzirs - that is, 
very likely, the Ak-Khazars, or "White" Khazars (as distinct from the "Black" Kara-Khazars). 
(The "Akatzirs" are also mentioned as a nation of warriors byjordanes, the great Goth histo- 
rian, a century later, and the so- called "Geographer of Ravenna" expressly identifies them 
with the Khazars. This is accepted by most modern authorities. [A notable exception was 
Marquart, but see Dunlop's refutation of his views, op. cit., pp. 7f.J Cassel, for instance, 
points out that Priscus's pronunciation and spelling follows the Armenian and Georgian: 
Khazir). The Byzantine Emperor, Priscus tells us, tried to win this warrior race over to his side, 
but the greedy Khazar chieftain, named Karidach, considered the bribe offered to him inade- 
quate, and sided with the Huns. Attila defeated Karidach's rival chieftains, installed him as 
the sole ruler of the Akatzirs, and invited him to visit his court. Karidach thanked him pro- 
fusely for the invitation, and went on to say that "it would be too hard on a mortal man to look 
into the face of a god. For, as one cannot stare into the sun's disc, even less could one look 
into the face of the greatest god without suffering injury." Attila must have been pleased, for 
he confirmed Karidach in his rule. 

Priscus's chronicle confirms that the Khazars appeared on the European scene about the 
middle of the fifth century as a people under Hunnish sovereignty, and may be regarded, 
together with the Magyars and other tribes, as a later offspring of Attila's horde. 


The collapse of the Hun Empire after Attila's death left a power-vacuum in Eastern Europe, 
through which once more, wave after wave of nomadic hordes swept from east to west, 
prominent among them the Uigurs and Avars. The Khazars during most of this period 
seemed to be happily occupied with raiding the rich trans-Caucasian regions of Georgia and 
Armenia, and collecting precious plunder. During the second half of the sixth century they 
became the dominant force among the tribes north of the Caucasus. A number of these 
tribes - the Sabirs, Saragurs, Samandars, Balanjars, etc. - are from this date onward no 
longer mentioned by name in the sources: they had been subdued or absorbed by the 
Khazars. The toughest resistance, apparently, was offered by the powerful Bulgars. But they 
too were crushingly defeated (circa 641), and as a result the nation split into two: some of 
them migrated westward to the Danube, into the region of modern Bulgaria, others north-east- 
ward to the middle Volga, the latter remaining under Khazar suzerainty. We shall frequently 
encounter both Danube Bulgars and Volga Bulgars in the course of this narrative. 

But before becoming a sovereign state, the Khazars still had to serve their apprenticeship 
under another short-lived power, the so-called West Turkish Empire, or Turkut kingdom. It was 
a confederation of tribes, held together by a ruler: the Kagan or Khagan (Or Kaqan or Khaqan 
or Chagan, etc. Orientalists have strong Idiosyncrasies about spelling [see Appendix I]. I shall 
stick to Kagan as the least offensive to Western eyes. The h in Khazar, however, is general 
usage), - a title which the Khazar rulers too were subsequently to adopt. This first Turkish 
state - if one may call it that - lasted for a century (circa 550-650) and then fell apart, leaving 
hardly any trace. However, it was only after the establishment of this kingdom that the name 
"Turk" was used to apply to a specific nation, as distinct from other Turkic-speaking peoples 
like the Khazars and Bulgars. (This, however, did not prevent the name "Turk" still being 
applied indiscriminately to any nomadic tribe of the steppes as a euphemism for Barbarian, or 
a synonym for "Hun". It led to much confusion in the interpretation of ancient sources). 

The Khazars had been under Hun tutelage, then under Turkish tutelage. After the eclipse of 
the Turks in the middle of the seventh century it was their turn to rule the "Kingdom of the 
North", as the Persians and Byzantines came to call it. According to one tradition, 15 the great 

Persian King Khusraw (Chosroes) Anushirwan (the Blessed) had three golden guest-thrones in 
his palace, reserved for the Emperors of Byzantium, China and of the Khazars. No state visits 
from these potentates materialized, and the golden thrones - if they existed - must have 
served a purely symbolic purpose. But whether fact or legend, the story fits in well with 
Emperor Constantine's official account of the triple gold seal assigned by the Imperial 
Chancery to the ruler of the Khazars. 


Thus during the first few decades of the seventh century, just before the Muslim hurricane 
was unleashed from Arabia, the Middle East was dominated by a triangle of powers: 
Byzantium, Persia, and the West Turkish Empire. The first two of these had been waging 
intermittent war against each other for a century, and both seemed on the verge of collapse; 
in the sequel, Byzantium recovered, but the Persian kingdom was soon to meet its doom, and 
the Khazars were actually in on the kill. 

They were still nominally under the suzerainty of the West Turkish kingdom, within which 
they represented the strongest effective force, and to which they were soon to succeed; 
accordingly, in 627, the Roman Emperor Heraclius concluded a military alliance with the 
Khazars - the first of several to follow - in preparing his decisive campaign against Persia. 
There are several versions of the role played by the Khazars in that campaign which seems to 
have been somewhat inglorious - but the principal facts are well established. The Khazars 
provided Heraclius with 40000 horsemen under a chieftain named Ziebel, who participated in 
the advance into Persia, but then - presumably fed up with the cautious strategy of the 
Greeks - turned back to lay siege on Tiflis; this was unsuccessful, but the next year they 
again joined forces with Heraclius, took the Georgian capital, and returned with rich plunder. 
Gibbon has given a colourful description (based on Theophanes) of the first meeting between 
the Roman Emperor and the Khazar chieftain. 16 

. . . To the hostile league of Chosroes with the Avars, the Roman emperor 
opposed the useful and honourable alliance of the Turks. (By "Turks", as the 
sequel shows, he means the Khazars). At his liberal invitation, the horde of 
Chozars transported their tents from the plains of the Volga to the mountains 
of Georgia; Heraclius received them in the neighbourhood of Tiflis, and the 
khan with his nobles dismounted from their horses, if we may credit the 
Greeks, and fell prostrate on the ground, to adore the purple of the Caesar. 
Such voluntary homage and important aid were entitled to the warmest 
acknowledgements; and the emperor, taking off his own diadem, placed it on 
the head of the Turkish prince, whom he saluted with a tender embrace and the 
appellation of son. After a sumptuous banquet, he presented Ziebel with the 
plate and ornaments, the gold, the gems, and the silk, which had been used at 
the Imperial table, and, with his own hand, distributed rich jewels and earrings 
to his new allies. In a secret interview, he produced a portrait of his daughter 
Eudocia, condescended to flatter the barbarian with the promise of a fair and 
august bride, and obtained an immediate succour of forty thousand horse . . . 

Eudocia (or Epiphania) was the only daughter of Heraclius by his first wife. The promise to 
give her in marriage to the "Turk" indicates once more the high value set by the Byzantine 
Court on the Khazar alliance. However, the marriage came to naught because Ziebel died 
while Eudocia and her suite were on their way to him. There is also an ambivalent reference in 
Theophanes to the effect that Ziebel "presented his son, a beardless boy" to the Emperor - 
as a quid pro quo? 

There is another picturesque passage in an Armenian chronicle, quoting the text of what 
might be called an Order of Mobilization issued by the Khazar ruler for the second campaign 
against Persia: it was addressed to "all tribes and peoples [under Khazar authority], inhabi- 
tants of the mountains and the plains, living under roofs or the open sky, having their heads 
shaved or wearing their hair long". 17 

This gives us a first intimation of the heterogeneous ethnic mosaic that was to compose 
the Khazar Empire. The "real Khazars" who ruled it were probably always a minority - as the 
Austrians were in the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. 


The Persian state never recovered from the crushing defeat inflicted on it by Emperor 
Heraclius in 627. There was a revolution; the King was slain by his own son who, in his 
turn, died a few months later; a child was elevated to the throne, and after ten years of 
anarchy and chaos the first Arab armies to erupt on the scene delivered the coup de grace to 
the Sassanide Empire. At about the same time, the West Turkish confederation dissolved into 
its tribal components. A new triangle of powers replaced the previous one: the Islamic 
Caliphate - Christian Byzantium and the newly emerged Khazar Kingdom of the North. It fell to 
the latter to bear the brunt of the Arab attack in its initial stages, and to protect the plains of 
Eastern Europe from the invaders. 

In the first twenty years of the Hegira - Mohammed's flight to Medina in 622, with which 
the Arab calendar starts - the Muslims had conquered Persia, Syria, Mesopotamia, Egypt, 


and surrounded the Byzantine heartland (the present-day Turkey) in a deadly semi-circle, 
which extended from the Mediterranean to the Caucasus and the southern shores of the 
Caspian. The Caucasus was a formidable natural obstacle, but no more forbidding than the 
Pyrenees; and it could be negotiated by the pass of Dariel (Now called the Kasbek pass), or 
bypassed through the defile of Darband, along the Caspian shore. 

This fortified defile, called by the Arabs Bab al Abwab, the Gate of Gates, was a kind of his- 
toric turnstile through which the Khazars and other marauding tribes had from time immemor- 
ial attacked the countries of the south and retreated again. Now it was the turn of the Arabs. 
Between 642 and 652 they repeatedly broke through the Darband Gate and advanced deep 
into Khazaria, attempting to capture Balanjar, the nearest town, and thus secure a foothold on 
the European side of the Caucasus. They were beaten back on every occasion in this first 
phase of the Arab-Khazar war; the last time in 652, in a great battle in which both sides used 
artillery (catapults and ballistae). Four thousand Arabs were killed, including their commander, 
Abdal-Rahman ibn-Rabiah; the rest fled in disorder across the mountains. 

For the next thirty or forty years the Arabs did not attempt any further incursions into the 
Khazar stronghold. Their main attacks were now aimed at Byzantium. On several occasions 
(ad 669, 673-8, 717-18), they laid siege to Constantinople by land and by sea; had they been 
able to outflank the capital across the Caucasus and round the Black Sea, the fate of the 
Roman Empire would probably have been sealed. The Khazars, in the meantime, having sub- 
jugated the Bulgars and Magyars, completed their western expansion into the Ukraine and the 
Crimea. But these were no longer haphazard raids to amass booty and prisoners; they were 
wars of conquest, incorporating the conquered people into an empire with a stable adminis- 
tration, ruled by the mighty Kagan, who appointed his provincial governors to administer and 
levy taxes in the conquered territories. At the beginning of the eighth century their state was 
sufficiently consolidated for the Khazars to take the offensive against the Arabs. 

From a distance of more than a thousand years, the period of intermittent warfare that fol- 
lowed (the so-called 'second Arab war", 722-37) looks like a series of tedious episodes on a 
local scale, following the same, repetitive pattern: the Khazar cavalry in their heavy armour 
breaking through the pass of Dariel or the Gate of Darband into the Caliph's domains to the 
south; followed by Arab counter-thrusts through the same pass or the defile, towards the 
Volga and back again. Looking thus through the wrong end of the telescope, one is reminded 
of the old jingle about the noble Duke of York who had ten thousand men; "he marched them 
up to the top of the hill. And he marched them down again." In fact, the Arab sources (though 
they often exaggerate) speak of armies of 100000, even of 300000, men engaged on either 
side - probably outnumbering the armies which decided the fate of the Western world at the 
battle of Tours about the same time. 

The death-defying fanaticism which characterized these wars is illustrated by episodes such 
as the suicide by fire of a whole Khazar town as an alternative to surrender; the poisoning of 
the water supply of Bab al Abwab by an Arab general; or by the traditional exhortation which 
would halt the rout of a defeated Arab army and make it fight to the last man: "To the 

Garden, Muslims, not the Fire" - the joys of Paradise being assured to every Muslim soldier 
killed in the Holy War. 

At one stage during these fifteen years of fighting the Khazars overran Georgia and 
Armenia, inflicted a total defeat on the Arab army in the battle of Ardabil (AD 730) and 
advanced as far as Mosul and Dyarbakir, more than half-way to Damascus, capital of the 
Caliphate. But a freshly raised Muslim army stemmed the tide, and the Khazars retreated 
homewards across the mountains. The next year Maslamah ibn-Abd-al-M alik, most famed 
Arab general of his time, who had formerly commanded the siege of Constantinople, took 
Balanjar and even got as far as Samandar, another large Khazar town further north. But once 
more the invaders were unable to establish a permanent garrison, and once more they were 
forced to retreat across the Caucasus. The sigh of relief experienced in the Roman Empire 
assumed a tangible form through another dynastic alliance, when the heir to the throne was 
married to a Khazar princess, whose son was to rule Byzantium as Leo the Khazar. 

The last Arab campaign was led by the future Caliph Marwan II, and ended in a Pyrrhic vic- 
tory. Marwan made an offer of alliance to the Khazar Kagan, then attacked by surprise 
through both passes. The Khazar army, unable to recover from the initial shock, retreated as 
far as the Volga. The Kagan was forced to ask for terms; Marwan, in accordance with the rou- 
tine followed in other conquered countries, requested the Kagan's conversion to the True 
Faith. The Kagan complied, but his conversion to Islam must have been an act of lip-service, 
for no more is heard of the episode in the Arab or Byzantine sources - in contrast to the last- 
ing effects of the establishment of J udaism as the state religion which took place a few years 
later. (The probable date for the conversion is around AD 740 - see below). Content with the 
results achieved, Marwan bid farewell to Khazaria and marched his army back to 
Transcaucasia - without leaving any garrison, governor or administrative apparatus behind. On 
the contrary, a short time later he requested terms for another alliance with the Khazars 
against the rebellious tribes of the south. 

It had been a narrow escape. The reasons which prompted Marwan's apparent magnanim- 
ity are a matter of conjecture - as so much else in this bizarre chapter of history. Perhaps the 
Arabs realized that, unlike the relatively civilized Persians, Armenians or Georgians, these 
ferocious Barbarians of the North could not be ruled by a Muslim puppet prince and a small 
garrison. Yet Marwan needed every man of his army to quell major rebellions in Syria and 
other parts of the Omayad Caliphate, which was in the process of breaking up. Marwan him- 
self was the chief commander in the civil wars that followed, and became in 744 the last of 

the Omayad Caliphs (only to be assassinated six years later when the Caliphate passed to 
the Abbasid dynasty). Given this background, Marwan was simply not in a position to exhaust 
his resources by further wars with the Khazars. He had to content himself with teaching them 
a lesson which would deter them from further incursions across the Caucasus. 

Thus the gigantic Muslim pincer movement across the Pyrenees in the west and across the 
Caucasus into Eastern Europe was halted at both ends about the same time. As Charles 
M artel's Franks saved Gaul and Western Europe, so the Khazars saved the eastern 
approaches to the Volga, the Danube, and the East Roman Empire itself. On this point at 
least, the Soviet archaeologist and historian, Artamonov, and the American historian, Dunlop, 
are in full agreement. I have already quoted the latter to the effect that but for the Khazars, 
"Byzantium, the bulwark of European civilization to the East, would have found itself out- 
flanked by the Arabs", and that history might have taken a different course. 

Artamonov is of the same opinion: 18 

Khazaria was the first feudal state in Eastern Europe, which ranked with the 
Byzantine Empire and the Arab Caliphate . . . It was only due to the powerful 
Khazar attacks, diverting the tide of the Arab armies to the Caucasus, that 
Byzantium withstood them . . . 

Lastly, the Professor of Russian History in the University of Oxford, Dimitry Obolensky: 19 

"The main contribution of the Khazars to world history was their success in 
holding the line of the Caucasus against the northward onslaught of the 

Marwan was not only the last Arab general to attack the Khazars, he was also the last 
Caliph to pursue an expansionist policy devoted, at least in theory, to the ideal of making 
Islam triumph all over the world. With the Abbasid caliphs the wars of conquest ceased, the 
revived influence of the old Persian culture created a mellower climate, and eventually gave 
rise to the splendours of Baghdad under Harun al Rashid. 


During the long lull between the first and second Arab wars, the Khazars became involved 
in one of the more lurid episodes of Byzantine history, characteristic of the times, and of 
the role the Khazars played in it. 
In AD 685 Justinian II, Rhinotmetus, became East Roman Emperor at the age of sixteen. 
Gibbon, in his inimitable way, has drawn the youth's portrait: 20 

His passions were strong; his understanding was feeble; and he was intoxi- 
cated with a foolish pride . . . His favourite ministers were two beings the least 
susceptible of human sympathy, a eunuch and a monk; the former corrected 
the emperor's mother with a scourge, the latter suspended the insolvent tribu- 
taries, with their heads downwards, over a slow and smoky fire. 

After ten years of intolerable misrule there was a revolution, and the new Emperor, 
Leontius, ordered Justinian's mutilation and banishment: 21 

The amputation of his nose, perhaps of his tongue, was imperfectly performed; 
the happy flexibility of the Creek language could impose the name of 
Rhinotmetus ("Cut-off Nose"); and the mutilated tyrant was banished to 
Chersonae in Crim-Tartary, a lonely settlement where corn, wine and oil were 
imported as foreign luxuries. (The treatment meted out to Justinian was actu- 
ally regarded as an act of leniency: the general tendency of the period was to 
humanize the criminal law by substituting mutilation for capital punishment - 
amputation of the hand [for thefts] or nose [fornication, etc], being the most 
frequent form. Byzantine rulers were also given to the practice of blinding dan- 
gerous rivals, while magnanimously sparing their lives). 

During his exile in Cherson, Justinian kept plotting to regain his throne. After three years he 
saw his chances improving when, back in Byzantium, Leontius was de-throned and also had 
his nose cut off. Justinian escaped from Cherson into the Khazar-ruled town of Doros in the 
Crimea and had a meeting with the Kagan of the Khazars, King Busir or Bazir. The Kagan must 
have welcomed the opportunity of putting his fingers into the rich pie of Byzantine dynastic 
policies, for he formed an alliance with J ustinian and gave him his sister in marriage. This sis- 
ter, who was baptized by the name of Theodora, and later duly crowned, seems to have been 
the only decent person in this series of sordid intrigues, and to bear genuine love for her 
noseless husband (who was still only in his early thirties). The couple and their band of fol- 
lowers were now moved to the town of Phanagoria (the present Taman) on the eastern shore 
of the strait of Kerch, which had a Khazar governor. 

Here they made preparations for the invasion of Byzantium with the aid of the Khazar 
armies which King Busir had apparently promised. But the envoys of the new Emperor, 
Tiberias III, persuaded Busir to change his mind, by offering him a rich reward in gold if he 


delivered J ustinian, dead or alive, to the Byzantines. King Busir accordingly gave orders to two 
of his henchmen, named Papatzes and Balgitres, to assassinate his brother-in-law. But faith- 
ful Theodora got wind of the plot and warned her husband. Justinian invited Papatzes and 
Balgitres separately to his quarters, and strangled each in turn with a cord. Then he took 
ship, sailed across the Black Sea into the Danube estuary, and made a new alliance with a 
powerful Bulgar tribe. Their king, Terbolis, proved for the time being more reliable than the 
Khazar Kagan, for in 704 he provided Justinian with 15000 horsemen to attack 
Constantinople. The Byzantines had, after ten years, either forgotten the darker sides of 
Justinian's former rule, or else found their present ruler even more intolerable, for they 
promptly rose against Tiberias and reinstated Justinian on the throne. The Bulgar King was 
rewarded with "a heap of gold coin which he measured with his Scythian whip" and went 
home (only to get involved in a new war against Byzantium a few years later). 

Justinian's second reign (704-711) proved even worse than the first; "he considered the 
axe, the cord and the rack as the only instruments of royalty". 22 He became mentally unbal- 
anced, obsessed with hatred against the inhabitants of Cherson, where he had spent most of 
the bitter years of his exile, and sent an expedition against the town. Some of Cherson's lead- 
ing citizens were burnt alive, others drowned, and many prisoners taken, but this was not 
enough to assuage J ustinian's lust for revenge, for he sent a second expedition with orders to 
raze the city to the ground. However, this time his troops were halted by a mighty Khazar army; 
whereupon Justinian's representative in the Crimea, a certain Bardanes, changed sides and 
joined the Khazars. The demoralized Byzantine expeditionary force abjured its allegiance to 
Justinian and elected Bardanes as Emperor, under the name of Philippicus. But since 
Philippicus was in Khazar hands, the insurgents had to pay a heavy ransom to the Kagan to 
get their new Emperor back. When the expeditionary force returned to Constantinople, 
J ustinian and his son were assassinated and Philippicus, greeted as a liberator, was installed 
on the throne only to be deposed and blinded a couple of years later. 

The point of this gory tale is to show the influence which the Khazars at this stage exer- 
cised over the destinies of the East Roman Empire - in addition to their role as defenders of 
the Caucasian bulwark against the Muslims. Bardanes-Philippicus was an emperor of the 
Khazars' making, and the end of Justinian's reign of terror was brought about by his brother- 
in-law, the Kagan. To quote Dunlop: "It does not seem an exaggeration to say that at this junc- 
ture the Khaquan was able practically to give a new ruler to the Greek empire." 23 


From the chronological point of view, the next event to be discussed should be the conver- 
sion of the Khazars to J udaism, around AD 740. But to see that remarkable event in its 
proper perspective, one should have at least some 

sketchy idea of the habits, customs and everyday life among the Khazars prior to the con- 

Alas, we have no lively eyewitness reports, such as Priscus's description of Attila's court. 
What we do have are mainly second-hand accounts and compilations by Byzantine and Arab 
chroniclers, which are rather schematic and fragmentary- with two exceptions. One is a let- 
ter, purportedly from a Khazar king, to be discussed in Chapter 2; the other is a travelogue by 
an observant Arab traveller, Ibn Fadlan, who - like Priscus - was a member of a diplomatic 
mission from a civilized court to the Barbarians of the North. 

The court was that of the Caliph al Muktadir, and the diplomatic mission travelled from 
Baghdad through Persia and Bukhara to the land of the Volga Bulgars. The official pretext for 
this grandiose expedition was a letter of invitation from the Bulgar king, who asked the Caliph 
(a) for religious instructors to convert his people to Islam, and (b) to build him a fortress 
which would enable him to defy his overlord, the King of the Khazars. The invitation - which 
was no doubt prearranged by earlier diplomatic contacts - also provided an opportunity to cre- 
ate goodwill among the various Turkish tribes inhabiting territories through which the mission 
had to pass, by preaching the message of the Koran and distributing huge amounts of gold 

The opening paragraphs of our traveller's account read (The following quotations are based 
on Zeki Validi Togan's German translation of the Arabic text and the English translation of 
extracts by Blake and Frye, both slightly paraphrased in the interest of readability): 

This is the book of Ahmad ibn-Fadlan ibn-al-Abbas, ibn-Rasid, ibn-Hammad, an 
official in the service of [General] Muhammed ibn-Sulayman, the ambassador 
of [Caliph] al Muktadir to the King of the Bulgars, in which he relates what he 
saw in the land of the Turks, the Khazars, the Rus, the Bulgars, the Bashkirs 
and others, their varied kinds of religion, the histories of their kings, and their 
conduct in many walks of life. 

The letter of the King of the Bulgars reached the Commander of the Faithful, al 
Muktadir; he asked him therein to send him someone to give him religious 
instruction and acquaint him with the laws of Islam, to build him a mosque and 
a pulpit so that he may carry out his mission of converting the people all over 
his country; he also entreated the Caliph to build him a fortress to defend him- 
self against hostile kings (i.e., as later passages show, the King of the 


Khazars). Everything that the King asked for was granted by the Caliph. I was 
chosen to read the Caliph's message to the King, to hand over the gifts the 
Caliph sent him, and to supervise the work of the teachers and interpreters of 
the Law . . . (There follow some details about the financing of the mission and 
names of participants.] And so we started on Thursday the 11th Safar of the 
year 309 (June 21, AD 921) from the City of Peace [Baghdad, capital of the 

The date of the expedition, it will he noted, is much later than the events described in the 
previous section. But as far as the customs and institutions of the Khazars' pagan neigh- 
bours are concerned, this probably makes not much difference; and the glimpses we get of 
the life of these nomadic tribes convey at least some idea of what life among the Khazars 
may have been during that earlier period - before the conversion - when they adhered to a 
form of Shamanism similar to that still practised by their neighbours in Ibn Fadlan's time. 

The progress of the mission was slow and apparently uneventful until they reached 
Khwarizm, the border province of the Caliphate south of the Sea of Aral. Here the governor in 
charge of the province tried to stop them from proceeding further by arguing that between his 
country and the kingdom of the Bulgars there were "a thousand tribes of disbelievers" who 
were sure to kill them. In fact his attempts to disregard the Caliph's instructions to let the 
mission pass might have been due to other motives: he realized that the mission was indi- 
rectly aimed against the Khazars, with whom he maintained a flourishing trade and friendly 
relations. In the end, however, he had to give in, and the mission was allowed to proceed to 
Gurganj on the estuary of the Amu-Darya. Here they hibernated for three months, because of 
the intense cold - a factor which looms large in many Arab travellers' tales: 

The river was frozen for three months, we looked at the landscape and thought 
that the gates of the cold Hell had been opened for us. Verily I saw that the 
market place and the streets were totally empty because of the cold . . . Once, 
when I came out of the bath and got home, I saw that my beard had frozen into 
a lump of ice, and I had to thaw it in front of the fire. I stayed for some days in 
a house which was inside of another house [compound?] and in which there 
stood a Turkish felt tent, and I lay inside the tent wrapped in clothes and furs, 
but nevertheless my cheeks often froze to the cushion . . . 

Around the middle of February the thaw set in. The mission arranged to join a mighty cara- 
van of 5000 men and 3000 pack animals to cross the northern steppes, and bought the nec- 
essary supplies: camels, skin boats made of camel hides for crossing rivers, bread, millet 
and spiced meat for three months. The natives warned them about the even more frightful 
cold in the north, and advised them what clothes to wear: 

So each of us put on a Kurtak, [camisole] over that a woollen Kaftan, over that 
a buslin, [fur-lined coat] over that a burka [fur coat]; and a fur cap, under which 
only the eyes could be seen; a simple pair of underpants, and a lined pair, and 
over them the trousers; house shoes of kaymuht [shagreen leather] and over 
these also another pair of boots; and when one of us mounted a camel, he was 
unable to move because of his clothes. 

Ibn Fadlan, the fastidious Arab, liked neither the climate nor the people of Khwarizm: 

They are, in respect of their language and constitution, the most repulsive of 
men. Their language is like the chatter of starlings. At a day's journey there is a 
village called Ardkwa whose inhabitants are called Kardals; their language 
sounds entirely like the croaking of frogs. 

They left on March 3 and stopped for the night in a caravanserai called Zamgan - the gate- 
way to the territory of the Ghuzz Turks. From here onward the mission was in foreign land, 
"entrusting our fate to the all-powerful and exalted God". During one of the frequent snow- 
storms, Ibn Fadlan rode next to a Turk, who complained: "What does the Ruler want from us? 
He is killing us with cold. If we knew what he wants we would give it to him." Ibn Fadlan: 

"All he wants is that you people should say: "There is no Cod save Allah". The 
Turk laughed: "If we knew that it is so, we should say so." 

There are many such incidents, which Ibn Fadlan reports without appreciating the indepen- 
dence of mind which they reflect. Nor did the envoy of the Baghdad court appreciate the 
nomadic tribesmen's fundamental contempt for authority. The following episode also 
occurred in the country of the powerful Ghuzz Turks, who paid tribute to the Khazars and, 
according to some sources, were closely related to them: 24 

The next morning one of the Turks met us. He was ugly in build, dirty in appear- 
ance, contemptible in manners, base in nature; and we were moving through a 
heavy rain. Then he said: "Halt." Then the whole caravan of 3000 animals and 
5000 men halted. Then he said: "Not a single one of you is allowed to go on." 


We halted then, obeying his orders. (Obviously the leaders of the great caravan 
had to avoid at all costs a conflict with the Ghuzz tribesmen). Then we said to 
him: "We are friends of the Kudarkin [Viceroy]". He began to laugh and said: 
"Who is the Kudarkin? I shit on his beard." Then he said: "Bread." I gave him a 
few loaves of bread. He took them and said: "Continue your journey; I have 
taken pity on you." 

The democratic methods of the Ghuzz, practised when a decision had to be taken, were 
even more bewildering to the representative of an authoritarian theocracy: 

They are nomads and have houses of felt. They stay for a while in one place 
and then move on. One can see their tents dispersed here and there all over 
the place according to nomadic custom. Although they lead a hard life, they 
behave like donkeys that have lost their way. They have no religion which would 
link them to God, nor are they guided by reason; they do not worship anything. 
Instead, they call their headmen lords; when one of them consults his chief- 
tain, he asks: "0 lord, what shall I do in this or that matter?" The course of 
action they adopt is decided by taking counsel among themselves; but when 
they have decided on a measure and are ready to carry it through, even the 
humblest and lowliest among them can come and disrupt that decision. 

The sexual mores of the Ghuzz - and other tribes - were a remarkable mixture of liberalism 
and savagery: 

Their women wear no veils in the presence of their men or strangers. Nor do 
the women cover any parts of their bodies in the presence of people. One day 
we stayed at the place of a Ghuzz and were sitting around; his wife was also 
present. As we conversed, the woman uncovered her private parts and 
scratched them, and we all saw it. Thereupon we covered our faces and said: 
"May God forgive me." The husband laughed and said to the interpreter: "Tell 
them we uncover it in your presence so that you may see and restrain your- 
selves; but it cannot be attained. This is better than when it is covered up and 
yet attainable." Adultery is alien to them; yet when they discover that someone 
is an adulterer they split him in two halves. This they do by bringing together 
the branches of two trees, tie him to the branches and then let both trees go, 
so that the man tied to them is torn in two. 

He does not say whether the same punishment was meted out to the guilty woman. Later 
on, when talking about the Volga Bulgars, he describes an equally savage method of splitting 
adulterers into two, applied to both men and women. Yet, he notes with astonishment, 
Bulgars of both sexes swim naked in their rivers, and have as little bodily shame as the 

As for homosexuality - which in Arab countries was taken as a matter of course - Ibn 
Fadlan says that it is "regarded by the Turks as a terrible sin". But in the only episode he 
relates to prove his point, the seducer of a "beardless youth" gets away with a fine of 400 

Accustomed to the splendid baths of Baghdad, our traveller could not get over the dirtiness 
of the Turks. "The Ghuzz do not wash themselves after defacating or urinating, nor do they 
bathe after seminal pollution or on other occasions. They refuse to have anything to do with 
water, particularly in winter . . .". When the Ghuzz commander-in-chief took off his luxurious 
coat of brocade to don a new coat the mission had brought him, they saw that his under- 
clothes were "fraying apart from dirt, for it is their custom never to take off the garment they 
wear close to their bodies until it disintegrates". Another Turkish tribe, the Bashkirs, "shave 
their beards and eat their lice. They search the folds of their undergarments and crack the 
lice with their teeth". When Ibn Fadlan watched a Bashkir do this, the latter remarked to him: 
"They are delicious". 

All in all, it is not an engaging picture. Our fastidious traveller's contempt for the barbarians 
was profound. But it was only aroused by their uncleanliness and what he considered as inde- 
cent exposure of the body; the savagery of their punishments and sacrificial rites leave him 
quite indifferent. Thus he describes the Bulgars' punishment for manslaughter with detached 
interest, without his otherwise frequent expressions of indignation: "They make for him [the 
delinquent] a box of birchwood, put him inside, nail the lid on the box, put three loaves of 
bread and a can of water beside it, and suspend the box between two tall poles, saying: "We 
have put him between heaven and earth, that he may be exposed to the sun and the rain, and 
that the deity may perhaps forgive 

him." And so he remains suspended until time lets him decay and the winds blow him 
away. " 

He also describes, with similar aloofness, the funeral sacrifice of hundreds of horses and 
herds of other animals, and the gruesome ritual killing of a Rus (Rus: the Viking founders of 
the early Russian settlements - see below, Chapter III.) slave girl at her master's bier. 

About pagan religions he has little to say. But the Bashkirs' phallus cult arouses his inter- 
est, for he asks through his interpreter one of the natives the reason for his worshipping a 
wooden penis, and notes down his reply: "Because I issued from something similar and know 


of no other creator who made me." He then adds that 'some of them [the Bashkirs] believe in 
twelve deities, a god for winter, another for summer, one for the rain, one for the wind, one for 
the trees, one for men, one for the horse, one for water, one for the night, one for the day, a 
god of death and one for the earth; while that god who dwells in the sky is the greatest among 
them, but takes counsel with the others and thus all are contented with each other's doings . 
. . We have seen a group among them which worships snakes, and a group which worships 
fish, and a group which worships cranes . . ." 
Among the Volga Bulgars, Ibn Fadlan found a strange custom: 

When they observe a man who excels through quickwittedness and knowledge, 
they say: "for this one it is more befitting to serve our Lord." They seize him, 
put a rope round his neck and hang him on a tree where he is left until he rots 

Commenting on this passage, the Turkish orientalist Zeki Validi Togan, undisputed authority 
on Ibn Fadlan and his times, has this to say: 25 "There is nothing mysterious about the cruel 
treatment meted out by the Bulgars to people who were overly clever. It was based on the sim- 
ple, sober reasoning or the average citizens who wanted only to lead what they considered to 
be a normal life, and to avoid any risk or adventure into which the "genius" might lead them." 
He then quotes a Tartar proverb: "If you know too much, they will hang you, and if you are too 
modest, they will trample on you." He concludes that the victim 'should not be regarded sim- 
ply as a learned person, but as an unruly genius, one who is too clever by half". This leads 
one to believe that the custom should be regarded as a measure of social defence against 
change, a punishment of non-conformists and potential innovators. (In support of his argu- 
ment, the author adduces Turkish and Arabic quotations in the original, without translation - a 
nasty habit common among modern experts in the field.) But a few lines further down he 
gives a different interpretation: 

Ibn Fadlan describes not the simple murder of too<lever people, but one of 
their pagan customs: human sacrifice, by which the most excellent among men 
were offered as sacrifice to God. This ceremony was probably not carried out by 
common Bulgars, but by their Tabibs, or medicine men, i.e. their shamans, 
whose equivalents among the Bulgars and the Rus also wielded power of life 
and death over the people, in the name of their cult. According to Ibn Rusta, 
the medicine men of the Rus could put a rope round the neck of anybody and 
hang him on a tree to invoke the mercy of God. When this was done, they said: 
"This is an offering to God." 

Perhaps both types of motivation were mixed together: 'since sacrifice is a necessity, let's 
sacrifice the trouble-makers". 

We shall see that human sacrifice was also practised by the Khazars - including the ritual 
killing of the king at the end of his reign. We may assume that many other similarities existed 
between the customs of the tribes described by Ibn Fadlan and those of the Khazars. 
Unfortunately he was debarred from visiting the Khazar capital and had to rely on information 
collected in territories under Khazar dominion, and particularly at the Bulgar court. 

PART 10 

It took the Caliph's mission nearly a year (from June 21, 921, to May 12, 922) to reach its 
destination, the land of the Volga Bulgars. The direct route from Baghdad to the Volga leads 
across the Caucasus and Khazaria - to avoid the latter, they had to make the enormous 
detour round the eastern shore of the "Khazar Sea", the Caspian. Even so, they were con- 
stantly reminded of the proximity of the Khazars and its potential dangers. 

A characteristic episode took place during their sojourn with the Ghuzz army chief (the one 
with the disreputable underwear). They were at first well received, and given a banquet. But 
later the Ghuzz leaders had second thoughts because of their relations with the Khazars. The 
chief assembled the leaders to decide what to do: 

The most distinguished and influential among them was the Tarkhan; he was 
lame and blind and had a maimed hand. The Chief said to them: "These are 
the messengers of the King of the Arabs, and I do not feel authorized to let 
them proceed without consulting you." Then the Tarkhan spoke: "This is a mat- 
ter the like of which we have never seen or heard before; never has an ambas- 
sador of the Sultan travelled through our country since we and our ancestors 
have been here. Without doubt the Sultan is deceiving us; these people he is 
really sending to the Khazars, to stir them up against us. The best will be to cut 
each of these messengers into two and to confiscate all their belongings." 
Another one said: "No, we should take their belongings and let them run back 
naked whence they came." Another said: "No, the Khazar king holds hostages 
from us, let us send these people to ransom them." 

They argued among themselves for seven days, while Ibn Fadlan and his people feared the 
worst. In the end the Ghuzz let them go; we are not told why. Probably Ibn Fadlan succeeded 


in persuading them that his mission was in fact directed against the Khazars. The Ghuzz had 
earlier on fought with the Khazars against another Turkish tribe, the Pechenegs, but more 
recently had shown a hostile attitude; hence the hostages the Khazars took. 

The Khazar menace loomed large on the horizon all along the journey. North of the Caspian 
they made another huge detour before reaching the Bulgar encampment somewhere near the 
confluence of the Volga and the Kama. There the King and leaders of the Bulgars were waiting 
for them in a state of acute anxiety. As soon as the ceremonies and festivities were over, the 
King sent for Ibn Fadlan to discuss business. He reminded Ibn Fadlan in forceful language 
("his voice sounded as if he were speaking from the bottom of a barrel") of the main purpose 
of the mission to wit, the money to be paid to him 'so that I shall be able to build a fortress to 
protect me from the Jews who subjugated me". Unfortunately that money - a sum of four 
thousand dinars - had not been handed over to the mission, owing to some complicated mat- 
ter of red tape; it was to be sent later on. On learning this, the King - "a personality of impres- 
sive appearance, broad and corpulent" - seemed close to despair. He suspected the mission 
of having defrauded the money: 

"What would you think of a group of men who are given a sum of money des- 
tined for a people that is weak, besieged, and oppressed, yet these men 
defraud the money?" I replied: "This is forbidden, those men would be evil." He 
asked: "Is this a matter of opinion or a matter of general consent?" I replied: 
"A matter of general consent." 

Gradually Ibn Fadlan succeeded in convincing the King that the money was only delayed, 
(Apparently it did arrive at some time, as there is no further mention of the matter), but not to 
allay his anxieties. The King kept repeating that the whole point of the invitation was the build- 
ing of the fortress " because he was afraid of the King of the Khazars" . And apparently he had 
every reason to be afraid, as Ibn Fadlan relates: 

The Bulgar King's son was held as a hostage by the King of the Khazars. It was 
reported to the King of the Khazars that the Bulgar King had a beautiful daugh- 
ter. He sent a messenger to sue for her. The Bulgar King used pretexts to 
refuse his consent. The Khazar sent another messenger and took her by force, 
although he was a Jew and she a Muslim; but she died at his court. The Khazar 
sent another messenger and asked for the Bulgar King's other daughter. But in 
the very hour when the messenger reached him, the Bulgar King hurriedly mar- 
ried her to the Prince of the Askil, who was his subject, for fear that the Khazar 
would take her too by force, as he had done with her sister. This alone was the 
reason which made the Bulgar King enter into correspondence with the Caliph 
and ask him to have a fortress built because he feared the King of the 

It sounds like a refrain. Ibn Fadlan also specifies the annual tribute the Bulgar King had to 
pay the Khazars: one sable fur from each household in his realm. Since the number of Bulgar 
households (i.e., tents) is estimated to have been around 50000, and since Bulgar sable fur 
was highly valued all over the world, the tribute was a handsome one. 

PART 11 

What Ibn Fadlan has to tell us about the Khazars is based - as already mentioned - on 
intelligence collected in the course of his journey, but mainly at the Bulgar court. 
Unlike the rest of his narrative, derived from vivid personal observations, the pages 
on the Khazars contain second-hand, potted information, and fall rather flat. Moreover, the 
sources of his information are biased, in view of the Bulgar King's understandable dislike of 
his Khazar overlord - while the Caliphate's resentment of a kingdom embracing a rival religion 
need hardly be stressed. 
The narrative switches abruptly from a description of the Rus court to the Khazar court: 

Concerning the King of the Khazars, whose title is Kagan, he appears in public 
only once every four months. They call him the Great Kagan. His deputy is 
called Kagan Bek; he is the one who commands and supplies the armies, man- 
ages the affairs of state, appears in public and leads in war. The neighbouring 
kings obey his orders. He enters every day into the presence of the Great 
Kagan, with deference and modesty, barefooted, carrying a stick of wood in his 
hand. He makes obeisance, lights the stick, and when it has burned down, he 
sits down on the throne on the King's right. Next to him in rank is a man called 
the K-nd-r Kagan, and next to that one, the j awshyghr Kagan. 

It is the custom of the Great Kagan not to have social intercourse with people, 
and not to talk with them, and to admit nobody to his presence except those 
we have mentioned. The power to bind or release, to mete out punishment, and 
to govern the country belongs to his deputy, the Kagan Bek. 


It is a further custom of the Great Kagan that when he dies a great building is 
built for him, containing twenty chambers, and in each chamber a grave is dug 
for him. Stones are broken until they become like powder, which is spread over 
the floor and covered with pitch. Beneath the building flows a river, and this 
river is large and rapid. They divert the river water over the grave and they say 
that this is done so that no devil, no man, no worm and no creeping creatures 
can get at him. After he has been buried, those who buried him are decapi- 
tated, so that nobody may know in which of the chambers is his grave. The 
grave is called "Paradise" and they have a saying: "He has entered Paradise". 
All the chambers are spread with silk brocade interwoven with threads of gold. 

It is the custom of the King of the Khazars to have twenty-five wives; each of 
the wives is the daughter of a king who owes him allegiance. He takes them by 
consent or by force. He has sixty girls for concubines, each of them of exquisite 

Ibn Fadlan then proceeds to give a rather fanciful description of the Kagan's harem, where 
each of the eighty-five wives and concubines has a "palace of her own", and an attendant or 
eunuch who, at the King's command, brings her to his alcove "faster than the blinking of an 

After a few more dubious remarks about the "customs" of the Khazar Kagan (we shall 
return to them later), Ibn Fadlan at last provides some factual information about the country: 

The King has a great city on the river Itil [Volga] on both banks. On one bank 
live the Muslims, on the other bank the King and his court. The Muslims are 
governed by one of the King's officials who is himself a Muslim. The lawsuits 
of the Muslims living in the Khazar capital and of visiting merchants from 
abroad are looked after by that official. Nobody else meddles in their affairs or 
sits in judgment over them. 

Ibn Fadlan's travel report, as far as it is preserved, ends with the words: 

The Khazars and their King are all Jews. (This sounds like an exaggeration in 
view of the existence of a Muslim community in the capital. Zeki Valid! accord- 
ingly suppressed the word "all". We must assume that "the Khazars" here 
refers to the ruling nation or tribe, within the ethnic mosaic of Khazaria, and 
that the Muslims enjoyed legal and religious autonomy, but were not consid- 
ered as "real Khazars".) The Bulgars and all their neighbours are subject to 
him. They treat him with worshipful obedience. Some are of the opinion that 
Gog and Magog are the Khazars. 

PART 12 

I have quoted Ibn Fadlan's odyssey at some length, not so much because of the scant infor- 
mation he provides about the Khazars themselves, but because of the light it throws on the 
world which surrounded them, the stark barbarity of the people amidst whom they lived, 
reflecting their own past, prior to the conversion. For, by the time of Ibn Fadlan's visit to the 
Bulgars, Khazaria was a surprisingly modern country compared to its neighbours. 

The contrast is evidenced by the reports of other Arab historians, (The following pages are 
based on the works of Istakhri, al- Masudi, Ibn Rusta and Ibn Hawkal [see Appendix II].), and 
is present on every level, from housing to the administration of justice. The Bulgars still live 
exclusively in tents, including the King, although the royal tent is "very large, holding a thou- 
sand people or more". 26 On the other hand, the Khazar Kagan inhabits a castle built of burnt 
brick, his ladies are said to inhabit "palaces with roofs of teak", 27 and the Muslims have sev- 
eral mosques, among them "one whose minaret rises above the royal castle". 28 

In the fertile regions, their farms and cultivat ed areas stretched out continuously over sixty 
or seventy miles. They also had extensive vineyards. Thus Ibn Hawkal: "In Kozr [Khazaria] 
there is a certain city called Asmid [Samandar] which has so many orchards and gardens that 
from Darband to Serir the whole country is covered with gardens and plantations belonging to 
this city. It is said that there are about forty thousand of them. Many of these produce 
grapes." 29 

The region north of the Caucasus was extremely fertile. In AD 968 Ibn Hawkal met a man 
who had visited it after a Russian raid: "He said there is not a pittance left for the poor in any 
vineyard or garden, not a leaf on the bough . . . [But] owing to the excellence of their land and 
the abundance of its produce it will not take three years until it becomes again what it was." 
Caucasian wine is still a delight, consumed in vast quantities in the Soviet Union. 

However, the royal treasuries' main source of income was foreign trade. The sheer volume 
of the trading caravans plying their way between Central Asia and the Volga-Ural region is indi- 
cated by Ibn Fadlan: we remember that the caravan his mission joined at Gurganj consisted of 
"5000 men and 3000 pack animals". Making due allowance for exaggeration, it must still 
have been a mighty caravan, and we do not know how many of these were at any time on the 
move. Nor what goods they transported - although textiles, dried fruit, honey, wax and spices 


seem to have played an important part. A second major trade route led across the Caucasus 
to Armenia, Georgia, Persia and Byzantium. A third consisted of the increasing traffic of Rus 
merchant fleets down the Volga to the eastern shores of the Khazar Sea, carrying mainly pre- 
cious furs much in demand among the Muslim aristocracy, and slaves from the north, sold at 
the slave market of Itil. On all these transit goods, including the slaves, the Khazar ruler 
levied a tax of ten percent. Adding to this the tribute paid by Bulgars, Magyars, Burtas and so 
on, one realizes that Khazaria was a prosperous country - but also that its prosperity 
depended to a large extent on its military power, and the prestige it conveyed on its tax col- 
lectors and customs officials. 

Apart from the fertile regions of the south, with their vineyards and orchards, the country 
was poor in natural resources. One Arab historian (Istakhri) says that the only native product 
they exported was isinglass. This again is certainly an exaggeration, yet the fact remains that 
their main commercial activity seems to have consisted in re-exporting goods brought in from 
abroad. Among these goods, honey and candle-wax particularly caught the Arab chroniclers' 
imagination. Thus Muqaddasi: "In Khazaria, sheep, honey and Jews exist in large quanti- 
ties." 30 It is true that one source - the Darband Namah - mentions gold or silver mines in 
Khazar territory, but their location has not been ascertained. On the other hand, several of the 
sources mention Khazar merchandise seen in Baghdad, and the presence of Khazar mer- 
chants in Constantinople, Alexandria and as far afield as Samara and Fergana. 

Thus Khazaria was by no means isolated from the civilized world; compared to its tribal 
neighbours in the north it was a cosmopolitan country, open to all sorts of cultural and reli- 
gious influences, yet jealously defending its independence against the two ecclesiastical 
world powers. We shall see that this attitude prepared the ground for the coup de theatre - or 
coup d'tat - which established J udaism as the state religion. 

The arts and crafts seem to have flourished, including haute couture. When the future 
Emperor Constantine V married the Khazar Kagan's daughter (see above, section 1), she 
brought with her dowry a splendid dress which so impressed the Byzantine court that it was 
adopted as a male ceremonial robe; they called it tzitzakion, derived from the Khazar-Turkish 
pet- name of the Princess, which was Chichak or "flower" (until she was baptized Eirene). 
"Here," Toynbee comments, "we have an illuminating fragment of cultural history." 31 When 
another Khazar princess married the Muslim governor of Armenia, her cavalcade contained, 
apart from attendants and slaves, ten tents mounted on wheels, "made of the finest silk, with 
gold-and silver-plated doors, the floors covered with sable furs. Twenty others carried the gold 
and silver vessels and other treasures which were her dowry". 32 The Kagan himself travelled 
in a mobile tent even more luxuriously equipped, carrying on its top a pomegranate of gold. 

PART 13 

Khazar art, like that of the Bulgars and Magyars, was mainly imitative, modelled on 
Persian-Sassanide patterns. The Soviet archaeologist Bader33 emphasized the role of 
the Khazars in the spreading of Persian-style silver-ware towards the north. Some of 
these finds may have been re-exported by the Khazars, true to their role as middlemen; oth- 
ers were imitations made in Khazar workshops - the ruins of which have been traced near the 
ancient Khazar fortress of Sarkel. (Unfortunately, Sarkel, the most important Khazar archaeo- 
logical site has been flooded by the reservoir of a newly built hydro-electric station). The jew- 
ellery unearthed within the confines of the fortress was of local manufacture. 34 The Swedish 
archaeologist T J. Arne mentions ornamental plates, clasps and buckles found as far as 
Sweden, of Sassanide and Byzantine inspiration, manufactured in Khazaria or territories 
under their influence. 35 

Thus the Khazars were the principal intermediaries in the spreading of Persian and 
Byzantine art among the semi-barbaric tribes of Eastern Europe. After his exhaustive survey 
of the archaeological and documentary evidence (mostly from Soviet sources), Bartha con- 

The sack of Tiflis by the Khazars, presumably in the spring of AD 629, is rele- 
vant to our subject . . . [During the period of occupation] the Kagan sent out 
inspectors to supervise the manufacture of gold, silver, iron and copper prod- 
ucts. Similarly the bazaars, trade in general, even the fisheries, were under 
their control . . . [Thus] in the course of their incessant Caucasian campaigns 
during the seventh century, the Khazars made contact with a culture which had 
grown out of the Persian Sassanide tradition. Accordingly, the products of this 
culture spread to the people of the steppes not only by trade, but by means of 
plunder and even by taxation.... All the tracks that we have assiduously fol- 
lowed in the hope of discovering the origins of Magyar art in the tenth century 
have led us back to Khazar territory 36 

The last remark of the Hungarian scholar refers to the spectacular archaeological finds 
known as the "Treasure of Nagyszentmiklos" (see frontispiece). The treasure, consisting of 
twentythree gold vessels, dating from the tenth century, was found in 1791 in the vicinity of 
the village of that name. (It now belongs to Rumania and is called Sinnicolaul Mare). Bartha 
points out that the figure of the "victorious Prince" dragging a prisoner along by his hair, and 
the mythological scene at the back of the golden jar, as well as the design of other ornamen- 
tal objects, show close affinities with the finds in Novi Pazar in Bulgaria and in Khazar Sarkel. 


As both Magyars and Bulgars were under Khazar suzerainty for protracted periods, this is not 
very surprising, and the warrior, together with the rest of the treasure, gives us at least some 
idea of the arts practised within the Khazar Empire (the Persian and Byzantine influence is 
predominant, as one would expect). (The interested reader will find an excellent collection of 
photographs in Gyula Laszlo's The Art of the Migration Period [although his historical com- 
ments have to be treated with caution]). 

One school of Hungarian archaeologists maintains that the tenth century gold-and silver- 
smiths working in Hungary were actually Khazars. 37 As we shall see later on (see III, 7, 8), 
when the Magyars migrated to Hungary in 896 they were led by a dissident Khazar tribe, 
known as the Kabars, who settled with them in their new home. The Kabar-Khazars were 
known as skilled gold and silversmiths; the (originally more primitive) Magyars only acquired 
these skills in their new country. Thus the theory of the Khazar origin of at least some of the 
archaeological finds in Hungary is not implausible - as will become clearer in the light of the 
Magyar-Khazar nexus discussed later on. 

PART 14 

Whether the warrior on the golden jar is of Magyar or Khazar origin, he helps us to visu- 
alise the appearance of a cavalryman of that period, perhaps belonging to an elite 
regiment. Masudi says that in the Khazar army 'seventhousand of them (Istakhri has 
12000). ride with the King, archers with breast plates, helmets, and coats of mail. Some are 
lancers, equipped and armed like the Muslims . . . None of the kings in this part of the world 
has a regular standing army except the King of the Khazars." And Ibn Hawkal: "This king has 
twelve thousand soldiers in his service, of whom when one dies, another person is immedi- 
ately chosen in his place." 

Here we have another important clue to the Khazar dominance: a permanent professional 
army, with a Praetorian Guard which, in peacetime, effectively controlled the ethnic patchwork, 
and in times of war served as a hard core for the armed horde, which, as we have seen, may 
have swollen at times to a hundred thousand or more. (According to Masudi, the "Royal Army" 
consisted of Muslims who "immigrated from the neighbourhood of Kwarizm. Long ago, after 
the appearance of Islam, there was war and pestilence in their territory, and they repaired to 
the Khazar king . . . When the king of the Khazars is at war with the Muslims, they have a sep- 
arate place in his army and do not fight the people of their own faith" [Quoted by Dunlop 
(1954), p. 206]. That the army "consisted" of Muslims is of course an exaggeration, contra- 
dicted by Masudi himself a few lines later, where he speaks of the Muslim contingent having a 
"separate place" in the Khazar army. Also, Ibn Hawkal says that "the king has in his train 
4000 Muslims and this king has 2000 soldiers in his service". The Kwarizmians probably 
formed a kind of Swiss Guard within the army, and their compatriots" talk of "hostages" [see 
above, section 10] may refer to them. Vice versa, the Byzantine Emperor Constantine 
Porphyrogenitus had a corps d'elite of Khazar guardsmen stationed at the gates of his 
palace. This was a privilege dearly bought: "These guards were so well remunerated that they 
had to purchase their posts for considerable sums, on which their salaries represented an 
annuity varying from about 2.25 to 4 per cent." [Constantine, De Ceremoniis, pp. 692-3]. For 
example, "a Khazar who received 7.4s. had paid for enrolment 302.8s." [Bury, p. 228n]) 

PART 15 

The capital of this motley empire was at first probably the fortress of Balanjar in the north- 
ern foothills of the Caucasus; after the Arab raids in the eighth century it was transferred 
to Samandar, on the western shore of the Caspian; and lastly to Itil in the estuary of the 

We have several descriptions of Itil, which are fairly consistent with each other. It was a twin 
city, built on both sides of the river. The eastern half was called Khazaran, the western half Itil; 
(The town was in different periods also mentioned under different names, e.g., al-Bayada, 
"The White City") the two were connected by a pontoon bridge. The western half was sur- 
rounded by a fortified wall, built of brick; it contained the palaces and courts of the Kagan and 
the Bek, the habitations of their attendants (Masudi places these buildings on an island, 
close to the west bank, or a peninsula.) and of the "pure-bred Khazars". The wall had four 
gates, one of them facing the river. Across the river, on the east bank, lived "the Muslims and 
idol worshippers"; 38 this part also housed the mosques, markets, baths and other public 
amenities. Several Arab writers were impressed by the number of mosques in the Muslim 
quarter and the height of the principal minaret. They also kept stressing the autonomy 
enjoyed by the Muslim courts and clergy. Here is what al-Masudi, known as "the Herodotus 
among the Arabs", has to say on this subject in his oft-quoted work Meadows of Gold Mines 
and Precious Stones: 

The custom in the Khazar capital is to have seven judges. Of these two are for 
the Muslims, two are for the Khazars, judging according to the Torah (Mosaic 
law), two for the Christians, judging according to the Gospel and one for the 
Saqualibah, Rus and other pagans, judging according to pagan law . . . In his 
[the Khazar King's] city are many Muslims, merchants and craftsmen, who have 
come to his country because of his justice and the security which he offers. 
They have a principal mosque and a minaret which rises above the royal castle, 


and other mosques there besides, with schools where the children learn the 
Koran. 383 

In reading these lines by the foremost Arab historian, written in the first half of the tenth 
century, (Supposedly between AD 943 and 947), one is tempted to take a perhaps too idyllic 
view of life in the Khazar kingdom. Thus we read in the article "Khazars" in the : "In a time 
when fanaticism, ignorance and anarchy reigned in Western Europe, the Kingdom of the 
Khazars could boast of its just and broad-minded administration." {Jewish Encyclopaedia, 
published 1901-6. In the Encyclopaedia J udaica, 1971, the article on the Khazars by Dunlop 
is of exemplary objectivity). 

This, as we have seen, is partly true; but only partly. There 

is no evidence of the Khazars engaging in religious persecution, either before or after the 
conversion to J udaism. In this respect they may be called more tolerant and enlightened than 
the East Roman Empire, or Islam in its early stages. On the other hand, they seem to have 
preserved some barbaric rituals from their tribal past. We have heard Ibn Fadlan on the 
killings of the royal gravediggers. He also has something to say about another archaic custom 
regicide: "The period of the king's rule is forty years. If he exceeds this time by a single day, 
his subjects and attendants kill him, saying "His reasoning is already dimmed, and his insight 

Istakhri has a different version of it: 

When they wish to enthrone this Kagan, they put a silken cord round his neck 
and tighten it until he begins to choke. Then they ask him: "How long doest 
thou intend to rule?" If he does not die before that year, he is killed when he 
reaches it. 

Bury 39 is doubtful whether to believe this kind of Arab traveller's lore, and one would indeed 
be inclined to dismiss it, if ritual regicide had not been such a widespread phenomenon 
among primitive (and not-so-primitive) people. Frazer laid great emphasis on the connection 
between the concept of the King's divinity, and the sacred obligation to kill him after a fixed 
period, or when his vitality is on the wane, so that the divine power may find a more youthful 
and vigorous incarnation. (Frazer wrote a special treatise on these lines on "The Killing of the 
Khazar Kings" [Folklore, XXVIII, 1917]). 

It speaks in Istakhri's favour that the bizarre ceremony of "choking" the future King has 
been reported in existence apparently not so long ago among another people, the Kok-Turks. 
Zeki Validi quotes a French anthropologist, Stjulien, writing in 1864: 

When the new Chief has been elected, his officers and attendants . . . make 
him mount his horse. They tighten a ribbon of silk round his neck, without quite 
strangling him; then they loosen the ribbon and ask him with great insistence: 
"For how many years canst thou be our Khan?" The king, in his troubled mind, 
being unable to name a figure, his subjects decide, on the strength of the 
words that have escaped him, whether his rule will be long or brief. 40 

We do not know whether the Khazar rite of slaying the King (if it ever existed) fell into 
abeyance when they adopted Judaism, in which case the Arab writers were confusing past 
with present practices as they did all the time, compiling earlier travellers' reports, and 
attributing them to contemporaries. However that may be, the point to be retained, and which 
seems beyond dispute, is the divine role attributed to the Kagan, regardless whether or not it 
implied his ultimate sacrifice. We have heard before that he was venerated, but virtually kept 
in seclusion, cut off from the people, until he was buried with enormous ceremony. The affairs 
of state, including leadership of the army, were managed by the Bek (sometimes also called 
the Kagan Bek), who wielded all effective power. On this point Arab sources and modern his- 
torians are in agreement, and the latter usually describe the Khazar system of government as 
a "double kingship", the Kagan representing divine, the Bek secular, power. 

The Khazar double kingship has been compared - quite mistakenly, it Seems - with the 
Spartan dyarchy and with the superficially similar dual leadership among various Turkish 
tribes. However, the two kings of Sparta, descendants of two leading families, wielded equal 
power; and as for the dual leadership among nomadic tribes, (Alfoldi has suggested that the 
two leaders were the commanders of the two wings of the horde [quoted by Dunlop, p. 159, n. 
123]), there is no evidence of a basic division of functions as among the Khazars. A more 
valid comparison is the system of government in Japan, from the Middle Ages to 1867, where 
secular power was concentrated in the hands of the shogun, while the Mikado was wor- 
shipped from afar as a divine figurehead. 

Cassel 41 has suggested an attractive analogy between the Khazar system of government 
and the game of chess. The double kingship is represented on the chess-board by the King 
(the Kagan) and the Queen (the Bek). The King is kept in seclusion, protected by his atten- 
dants, has little power and can only move one short step at a time. The Queen, by contrast, is 
the most powerful presence on the board, which she dominates. Yet the Queen may be lost 
and the game still continued, whereas the fall of the King is the ultimate disaster which 
instantly brings the contest to an end. 

The double kingship thus seems to indicate a categorical distinction between the sacred 
and the profane in the mentality of the Khazars. The divine attributes of the Kagan are much 


in evidence in the following passage from Ibn Hawkal (Ibn Hawkal, another much-travelled 
Arab geographer and historian, wrote his Oriental Geography around AD 977. The passage 
here quoted is virtually a copy of what Istakhri wrote forty years earlier, but contains less 
obscurities, so I have followed Ouseley's translation [1800] of Ibn Hawkal): 

The Khacan must be always of the Imperial race [Istakhri: " ... of a family of 
notables"]. 413 No one is allowed to approach him but on business of impor- 
tance: then they prostrate themselves before him, and rub their faces on the 
ground, until he gives orders for their approaching him, and speaking. When a 
Khacan . . . dies, whoever passes near his tomb must go on foot, and pay his 
respects at the grave; and when he is departing, must not mount on horse- 
back, as long as the tomb is within view. 

So absolute is the authority of this sovereign, and so implicitly are his com- 
mands obeyed, that if it seemed expedient to him that one of his nobles should 
die, and if he said to him, "Go and kill yourself," the man would immediately go 
to his house, and kill himself accordingly. The succession to the Khacanship 
being thus established in the same family [Istakhri: "in a family of notables 
who possess neither power nor riches" ]; 41b when the turn of the inheritance 
arrives to any individual of it, he is confirmed in the dignity, though he pos- 
sesses not a single dirhem [coin]. And I have heard from persons worthy of 
belief, that a certain young man used to sit in a little shop at the public market- 
place, selling petty articles [Istakhri: 'selling bread"]; and that the people used 
to say, "When the present Khacan shall have departed, this man will succeed 
to the throne" [Istakhri: "There is no man worthier of the Khaganate than 
he"]. 41c But the young man was a Mussulman, and they give the Khacanship 
only to Jews. 

The Khacan has a throne and pavilion of gold: these are not allowed to any 
other person. The palace of the Khacan is loftier than the other edifices. 42 

The passage about the virtuous young man selling bread, or whatever it is, in the bazaar 
sounds rather like a tale about Harun al Rashid. If he was heir to the golden throne reserved 
for Jews, why then was he brought up as a poor Muslim? If we are to make any sense at all of 
the story, we must assume that the Kagan was chosen on the strength of his noble virtues, 
but chosen among members of the "Imperial Race" or "family of notables". This is in fact the 
view of Artamonov and Zeki Validi. Artamonov holds that the Khazars and other Turkish peo- 
ple were ruled by descendants of the Turkut dynasty, the erstwhile sovereigns of the defunct 
Turk Empire (cf. above, section 3). Zeki Validi suggests that the "Imperial Race" or "family of 
notables", to which the Kagan must belong, refers to the ancient dynasty of the Asena, men- 
tioned in Chinese sources, a kind of desert aristocracy, from which Turkish and Mongol rulers 
traditionally claimed descent. This sounds fairly plausible and goes some way towards recon- 
ciling the contradictory values implied in the narrative just quoted: the noble youth without a 
dirhem to his name - and the pomp and circumstance surrounding the golden throne. We are 
witnessing the overlap of two traditions, like the optical interference of two wave-patterns on a 
screen: the asceticism of a tribe of hard-living desert nomads, and the glitter of a royal court 
prospering on its commerce and crafts, and striving to outshine its rivals in Baghdad and 
Constantinople. After all, the creeds professed by those sumptuous courts had also been 
inspired by ascetic desert- prophets in the past. 

All this does not explain the startling division of divine and secular power, apparently unique 
in that period and region. As Bury wrote: 43 

"We have no information at what time the active authority of the Chagan was 
exchanged for his divine nullity, or why he was exalted to a position resembling 
that of the Emperor of Japan, in which his existence, and not his government, 
was considered essential to the prosperity of the State." 

A speculative answer to this question has recently been proposed by Artamonov. He sug- 
gests that the acceptance of Judaism as the state religion was the result of a coup d'etat, 
which at the same time reduced the Kagan, descendant of a pagan dynasty whose allegiance 
to Mosaic law could not really be trusted, to a mere figurehead. This is a hypothesis as good 
as any other - and with as little evidence to support it. Yet it seems probable that the two 
events - the adoption of J udaism and the establishment of the double kingship - were some- 
how connected. (Before the conversion the Kagan was still reported to play an active role - 
as, for instance, in his dealings with Justinian. To complicate matters further, the Arab 
sources sometimes refer to the "Kagan" when they clearly mean the "Bek" (as "kagan" was 


the generic term for "ruler" among many tribes), and they also use different names for the 
Bek, as the following list shows [after Minorsky, Hudud al Alam, p. 451: 

Const. Porphyr. Khaqan Bek 

Ibn Rusta 

Khazar Khaqan 

Ays ha 





Malik Khazar 

Khaqan Khazar* 

Ibn Hawkal 

Khaqan Khazar 

Malik Khazar or Bek 


Khazar Khaqan 


* The order of the rulers appears to have been changed] 



1 Constantine Porphyrogenitus, De Cacromoniis I, p. 690. 

2 Bury, J. B. (1912), p.402. 

3 Dunlop, D. M. (1954), pp. ix-x. 

4 Bartlia, A. (1968), p. 35. 

5 Poliak, A. N. (1951). 

6 Cassel, P(1876). 

7 Bartha, p. 24. 

8 Bartha, p. 24 and notes. 

9 Bartha, p. 24, n. 147-9. 

10 Istoria Khazar, 1962. 

11 Ibn-Said al-M aghribi, quoted by Dunlop, p. 11 

12 Schultze(1905), p. 23. 

13 Marquart, p. 44, n. 4 

14 Quoted by Dunlop (1954), p. 96. 

15 Ibn-al-Balkhi, Fars Namak. 

16 Gibbon, Vol. V, pp. 87-8. 

17 Moses of Kalankatuk, quoted by Dunlop, p. 29. 

18 Artamonov, M. 1. (1962). 

19 Obolensky, D, (1971), P 1712. 

20 Gibbon, P 79. 

21 Gibbon, p. 180. 

22 Gibbon, p. 182. 

23 Op. cit., P 176. 

24 Zeki Validi, Exk. 36a. 

25 Ibid., p. 50. 

26 Ibid. p. 61. 

27 Istakhri. 

28 Al-Masudi. 

29 Ibn Hawkal., also Istakhri (who was only 4000 gardens). 

30 Muqaddasi, p. 355, quoted by Baron III, p. 197. 

31 Toynbee,A(1973), p. 549 

32 Zeki Validi, p. 120. 

33 Quoted by Bartha, p. 184, 

34 Bartha, p. 139. 

35 Quoted by Dunlop (1954), p. 231. 

36 Bartha, pp. 143-5. 

37 Laszlo, G. (1974), pp. 66f, 

37a Quoted by Dunlop (1954). p206. 

38 Hududal Alam, No. 50. 

39 Op. cit, p. 405. 

40 St. J ulien, Documents sur les Tou Kioue, quoted by Zeki Validi, p. z69. 

41 Cassel, op. cit, P 52. 

42 Ibn Hawkal, pp. 189-90. 

43 Op.cit., p. 405. 


The Thirteenth Tribe 

Arthur Koestler 



THE religion of the Hebrews", writes Bury, "had exercised a profound influence on the 
creed of Islam, and it had been a basis for Christianity; it had won scattered proselytes; 
but the conversion of the Khazars to the undiluted religion ofjehova is unique in his- 
tory." 1 

What was the motivation of this unique event? It is not easy to get under the skin of a 
Khazar prince - covered, as it was, by a coat of mail. But if we reason in terms of power-pol- 
itics, which obeys essentially the same rules throughout the ages, a fairly plausible analogy 
offers itself. 

At the beginning of the eighth century the world was polarized between the two super-pow- 
ers representing Christianity and Islam. Their ideological doctrines were welded to power-pol- 
itics pursued by the classical methods of propaganda, subversion and military conquest. 
The Khazar Empire represented a Third Force, which had proved equal to either of them, both 
as an adversary and an ally. But it could only maintain its independence by accepting neither 
Christianity nor Islam - for either choice would have automatically subordinated it to the 
authority of the Roman Emperor or the Caliph of Baghdad. 

There had been no lack of efforts by either court to convert the Khazars to Christianity or 
Islam, but all they resulted in was the exchange of diplomatic courtesies, dynastic inter-mar- 
riages and shifting military alliances based on mutual self-interest. Relying on its military 
strength, the Khazar kingdom, with its hinterland of vassal tribes, was determined to pre- 
serve its position as the Third Force, leader of the uncommitted nations of the steppes. 

At the same time, their intimate contacts with Byzantium and the Caliphate had taught the 
Khazars that their primitive shamanism was not only barbaric and outdated compared to the 
great monotheistic creeds, but also unable to confer on the leaders the spiritual and legal 
authority which the rulers of the two theocratic world powers, the Caliph and the Emperor, 
enjoyed. Yet the conversion to either creed would have meant submission, the end of inde- 
pendence, and thus would have defeated its purpose. What could have been more logical 
than to embrace a third creed, which was uncommitted towards either of the two, yet repre- 
sented the venerable foundation of both? 

The apparent logic of the decision is of course due to the deceptive clarity of hindsight. In 
reality, the conversion to J udaism required an act of genius. Yet both the Arab and Hebrew 
sources on the history of the conversion, however varied in detail, point to a line of reason- 
ing as indicated above. To quote Bury once more: 

There can be no question that the ruler was actuated by political motives in 
adopting Judaism. To embrace Mohammadanism would have made him the 
spiritual dependent of the Caliphs, who attempted to press their faith on the 
Khazars, and in Christianity lay the danger of his becoming an ecclesiastical 
vassal of the Roman Empire. Judaism was a reputable religion with sacred 
books which both Christian and Mohammadan respected; it elevated him 
above the heathen barbarians, and secured him against the interference of 
Caliph or Emperor. But he did not adopt, along with circumcision, the intoler- 
ance of the Jewish cult. He allowed the mass of his people to abide in their 
heathendom and worship their idols. 2 

Though the Khazar court's conversion was no doubt politically motivated, it would still be 
absurd to imagine that they embraced overnight, blindly, a religion whose tenets were 
unknown to them. In fact, however, they had been well acquainted with Jews and their reli- 
gious observances for at least a century before the conversion, through the continued influx 
of refugees from religious persecution in Byzantium, and to a lesser extent from countries in 
Asia Minor conquered by the Arabs. We know that Khazaria was a relatively civilized country 
among the Barbarians of the North, yet not committed to either of the militant creeds, and 
so it became a natural haven for the periodic exodus of Jews under Byzantine rule, threat- 
ened by forced conversion and other pressures. Persecution in varied forms had started with 
J ustinian I (527-65), and assumed particularly vicious forms under Heraclius in the seventh 
century, Leo III in the eighth, Basil and Leo IV in the ninth, Romanus in the tenth. Thus Leo 
III, who ruled during the two decades immediately preceding the Khazar conversion to 
Judaism, "attempted to end the anomaly [of the tolerated status of Jews] at one blow, by 


ordering all his Jewish subjects to be baptized". 3 Although the implementation of the order 
seemed to have been rather ineffective, it led to the flight of a considerable number of J ews 
from Byzantium. Masudi relates: 

In this city [Khazaran-ltil] are Muslims, Christians, Jews and pagans. The J ews 
are the king, his attendants and the Khazars of his kind, [i.e., presumably the 
ruling tribe of "White Khazars", see above, Chapter I, 3.] The king of the 
Khazars had already become a Jew in the Caliphate of Harun al-Rashid [i.e., 
between AD 786 and 809; but it is generally assumed that Masudi used a 
convenient historical landmark and that the conversion took place around AD 
740.] and he was joined by J ews from all lands of Islam and from the country 
of the Greeks [Byzantium], Indeed the king of the Greeks at the present time, 
the Year of the Hegira 332 [AD 9434] has converted the Jews in his kingdom 
to Christianity by coercion . . . Thus many J ews took flight from the country of 
the Greeks to Khazaria . . . 3a 

The last two sentences quoted refer to events two hundred years after the Khazar conver- 
sion, and show how persistently the waves of persecution followed each other over the cen- 
turies. But the Jews were equally persistent. Many endured torture, and those who did not 
have the strength to resist returned later on to their faith - "like dogs to their vomit", as one 
Christian chronicler gracefully put it. 4 Equally picturesque is the description of a Hebrew 
writer 5 of one method of forced conversion used under the Emperor Basil against the J ewish 
community of Oria in southern Italy: 

How did they force them? Anyone refusing to accept their erroneous belief 
was placed in an olive mill under a wooden press, and squeezed in the way 
olives are squeezed in the mill. 

Another Hebrew source 6 remarks on the persecution under the Emperor Romanus (the 
"Greek King"to whom Masudi refers): "And afterwards there will arise a King who will perse- 
cute them not by destruction, but mercifully by driving them out of the country.'Mhe only 
mercy shown by history to those who took to flight, or were driven to it, was the existence of 
Khazaria, both before and after the conversion. Before, it was a refugee haven; after, it 
became a kind of National Home. The refugees were products of a superior culture, and were 
no doubt an important factor in creating that cosmopolitan, tolerant outlook which so 
impressed the Arab chroniclers quoted before. Their influence - and no doubt their proselytiz- 
ing zeal [This was an age when converting unbelievers by force or persuasion was a foremost 
concern. That the Jews, too, indulged in it is shown by the fact that, since the rule of 
Justinian, Byzantine law threatened severe punishments for the attempt to convert Christians 
to Judaism, while for J ews "molesting"converts to Christianity the penalty was death by fire 
(Sharf, p. 25).] - would have made itself felt first and foremost at the court and among leading 
notables. They may have combined in their missionary efforts theological arguments and 
messianic prophecies with a shrewd assessment of the political advantages the Khazars 
would derive from adopting a "neutral"religion. 

The exiles also brought with them Byzantine arts and crafts, superior methods in agriculture 
and trade, and the square Hebrew alphabet. We do not know what kind of script the Khazars 
used before that, but the Fihrist of Ibn Nadim, 7 a kind of universal bibliography written circa 
AD 987, informs us that in his time the Khazars used the Hebrew alphabet. It served the dual 
purpose of scholarly discourse in Hebrew (analogous to the use of mediaeval Latin in the 
West) and as a written alphabet for the various languages spoken in Khazaria (analogous to 
the use of the Latin alphabet for the various vernaculars in Western Europe). From Khazaria 
the Hebrew script seemed to have spread into neighbouring countries. Thus Chwolson reports 
that "inscriptions in a non-Semitic language (or possibly in two different non-Semitic lan- 
guages) using Hebrew characters were found on two gravestones from Phanagoria and 
Parthenit in the Crimea; they have not been deciphered yet." 8 [These inscriptions are a cate- 
gory apart from the forgeries of Firkovitch, notorious among historians (see Appendix III). - 
Poliak (4/3) quoting Chwolson, D.A. (1865).] (The Crimea was, as we have seen, intermit- 
tently under Khazar rule; but it also had an old-established J ewish community, and the inscrip- 
tions may even pre-date the conversion.) Some Hebrew letters (shin and tsadei) also found 
their way into the Cyrillic alphabet, 9 and furthermore, many Polish silver coins have been 
found, dating from the twelfth or thirteenth century, which bear Polish inscriptions in Hebrew 
lettering (e.g., Leszek krol Polski - Leszek King of Poland), side by side with coins inscribed in 
the Latin alphabet. Poliak comments: 

"These coins are the final evidence for the spreading of the Hebrew script from 
Khazaria to the neighbouring Slavonic countries. The use of these coins was 
not related to any question of religion. They were minted because many of the 
Polish people were more used to this type of script than to the Roman script, 
not considering it as specifically J ewish." 10 

Thus while the conversion was no doubt inspired by opportunistic motives - conceived as a 
cunning political manoeuvre - it brought in its wake cultural developments which could hardly 


have been foreseen by those who started it. The Hebrew alphabet was the beginning; three 
centuries later the decline of the Khazar state is marked by repeated outbreaks of a mes- 
sianic Zionism, with pseudo-Messiahs like David El-Roi (hero of a novel by Disraeli) leading 
quixotic crusades for the re-conquest of Jerusalem. [See below, Chapter IV, II.] 

After the defeat by the Arabs in 737, the Kagan's forced adoption of Islam had been a for- 
mality almost instantly revoked, which apparently left no impression on his people. In contrast 
to this, the voluntary conversion to J udaism was to produce deep and lasting effects. 



e circumstances of the conversion are obscured by legend, but the principal Arab and 
Hebrew accounts of it have some basic features in common. 

Al-Masudi's account of the Jewish rule in Khazaria, quoted earlier on, ends with a reference 
to a previous work of his, in which he gave a description of those circumstances. That previ- 
ous work of Masudi's is lost; but there exist two accounts which are based on tile lost book. 
The first, by Dimaski (written in 1327), reiterates that at the time of Harun al Rashid, the 
Byzantine Emperor forced the Jews to emigrate; these emigrants came to the Khazar country 
where they found "an intelligent but uneducated race to whom they offered their religion. The 
natives found it better than their own and accepted it." 11 

The second, much more detailed account is in al-Bakri's Book of Kingdoms and Roads 
(eleventh century): 

The reason for the conversion to Judaism of the King of the Khazars, who had 
previously been a pagan, is as follows. He had adopted Christianity. [No other 
source, as far as I know, mentions this. It maybe a substitution more palatable 
to Muslim readers for the Kagan's short-lived adoption of Islam prior to 
Judaism.] Then he recognized its falsehood and discussed this matter, which 
greatly worried him, with one of his high officials. The latter said to him: king, 
those in possession of sacred scriptures fall into three groups. Summon them 
and ask them to state their case, then follow the one who is in possession of 
the truth. .So he sent to the Christians for a bishop. Now there was with the 
King a Jew, skilled in argument, who engaged him in disputation. He asked the 
Bishop: "What do you say of Moses, the son of Amran, and the Torah which 
was revealed to him? "The Bishop replied: "Moses is a prophet and the Torah 
speaks the truth."Then the Jew said to the King: "He has already admitted the 
truth of my creed. Ask him now what he believes in.". So the King asked him 
and he replied: "I say that Jesus the Messiah is the son of Mary, he is the 
Word, and he has revealed the mysteries in the name of God."Then said the 
Jew to the King of the Khazars: "He preaches a doctrine which I know not, while 
he accepts my propositions." But the Bishop was not strong in producing evi- 
dence. Then the King asked for a Muslim, and they sent him a scholarly, clever 
man who was good at arguments. But the Jew hired someone who poisoned 
him on the journey, and he died. And the Jew succeeded in winning the King for 
his faith, so that he embraced Judaism. 12 

The Arab historians certainly had a gift for sugaring the pill. Had the Muslim scholar been 
able to participate in the debate he would have fallen into the same trap as the Bishop, for 
both accepted the truth of the Old Testament, whereas the upholders of the New Testament 
and of the Koran were each outvoted two to one. The King's approval of this reasoning is sym- 
bolic: he is only willing to accept doctrines which are shared by all three - their common 
denominator - and refuses to commit himself to any of the rival claims which go beyond that. 
It is once more the principle of the uncommitted world, applied to theology. 

The story also implies, as Bury 13 has pointed out, that Jewish influence at the Khazar court 
must already have been strong before the formal conversion, for the Bishop and the Muslim 
scholar have to be 'sent for", whereas the J ew is alreadv "with him"(the King). 


We now turn from the principal Arab source on the conversion - Masudi and his com- 
pilers - to the principal Jewish source. This is the so-called "Khazar 
Correspondence": an exchange of letters, in Hebrew, between Hasdai Ibn Shaprut, 
the Jewish chief minister of the Caliph of Cordoba, and Joseph, King of the Khazars or, 
rather, between their respective scribes. The authenticity of the correspondence has been 
the subject of controversy but is now generally accepted with due allowance made for the 
vagaries of later copyists. [A summary of the controversy will be found in Appendix III.] 

The exchange of letters apparently took place after 954 and before 961, that is roughly at 
the time when Masudi wrote. To appreciate its significance a word must be said about the 
personality of Hasdai Ibn Shaprut - perhaps the most brilliant figure in the "Golden 
Age"(900-1200) of the J ews in Spain. 

In 929, Abd-al-Rahman III, a member of the Omayad dynasty, succeeded in unifying the 
Moorish possessions in the southern and central parts of the Iberian peninsula under his 
rule, and founded the Western Caliphate. His capital, Cordoba, became the glory of Arab 


Spain, and a focal centre of European culture with a library of 400000 catalogued volumes. 
Hasdai, born 910 in Cordoba into a distinguished J ewish family, first attracted the Caliph's 
attention as a medical practitioner with some remarkable cures to his credit. Abd-al-Rahman 
appointed him his court physician, and trusted his judgment so completely that Hasdai was 
called upon, first, to put the state finances in order, then to act as Foreign Minister and diplo- 
matic trouble-shooter in the new Caliphate's complex dealings with Byzantium, the German 
Emperor Otto, with Castile, Navarra, Arragon and other Christian kingdoms in the north of 
Spain. Hasdai was a true uomo universale centuries before the Renaissance who, in 
between affairs of state, still found the time to translate medical books into Arabic, to corre- 
spond with the learned rabbis of Baghdad and to act as a Maecenas for Hebrew grammari- 
ans and poets. 

He obviously was an enlightened, yet a devoted Jew, who used his diplomatic contacts to 
gather information about the Jewish communities dispersed in various parts of the world, 
and to intervene on their behalf whenever possible. He was particularly concerned about the 
persecution of Jews in the Byzantine Empire under Romanus (see above, section I). 
Fortunately, he wielded considerable influence at the Byzantine court, which was vitally inter- 
ested in procuring the benevolent neutrality of Cordoba during the Byzantine campaigns 
against the Muslims of the East. Hasdai, who was conducting the negotiations, used this 
opportunity to intercede on behalf of Byzantine Jewry, apparently with success. 14 

According to his own account, Hasdai first heard of the existence of an independent 
Jewish kingdom from some merchant traders from Khurasan in Persia; but he doubted the 
truth of their story. Later he questioned the members of a Byzantine diplomatic mission to 
Cordoba, and they confirmed the merchants' account, contributing a considerable amount of 
factual detail about the Khazar kingdom, including the name - J oseph - of its present King. 
Thereupon Hasdai decided to send couriers with a letter to King J oseph. 

The letter (which will be discussed in more detail later on) contains a list of questions 
about the Khazar state, its people, method of government, armed forces, and so on - includ- 
ing an inquiry to which of the twelve tribes Joseph belonged. This seems to indicate that 
Hasdai thought the Jewish Khazars to hail from Palestine - as the Spanish Jews did - and 
perhaps even to represent one of the Lost Tribes. Joseph, not being of Jewish descent, 
belonged, of course, to none of the tribes; in his Reply to Hasdai, he provides, as we shall 
see, a genealogy of a different kind, but his main concern is to give Hasdai a detailed - if 
legendary - account of the conversion - which took place two centuries earlier - and the cir- 
cumstances that led to it. 

Joseph's narrative starts with a eulogy of his ancestor, King Bulan, a great conqueror and 
a wise man who "drove out the sorcerers and idolators from his land". Subsequently an 
angel appeared to King Bulan in his dreams, exhorting him to worship the only true God, and 
promising that in exchange He would "bless and multiply Bulan's offspring, and deliver his 
enemies into his hands, and make his kingdom last to the end of the world". This, of course, 
is inspired by the story of the Covenant in Genesis; and it implies that the Khazars too 
claimed the status of a Chosen Race, who made their own Covenant with the Lord, even 
though they were not descended from Abraham's seed. But at this point Joseph's story 
takes an unexpected turn. King Bulan is quite willing to serve the Almighty, but he raises a 

Thou knowest, my Lord, the secret thoughts of my heart and thou hast 
searched my kidneys to confirm that my trust is in thee; but the people over 
which I rule have a pagan mind and I do not know whether they will believe 
me. If I have found favour and mercy in thine eyes, then I beseech thee to 
appear also to their Great Prince, to make him support me. .The Eternal One 
granted Bulan's request, he appeared to this Prince in a dream, and when he 
arose in the morning he came to the King and made it known to him . . . 

There is nothing in Genesis, nor in the Arab accounts of the conversion, about a great 
prince whose consent has to be obtained. It is an unmistakable reference to the Khazar dou- 
ble kingship. The "Great Prince", apparently, is the Bek; but it is not impossible that the 
"King"was the Bek, and the "Prince"the Kagan. Moreover according to Arab and Armenian 
sources, the leader of the Khazar army which invaded Transcaucasia in 731 (i.e., a few years 
before the presumed date of the conversion) was called "Bulkhan". 15 

Joseph's letter continues by relating how the angel appeared once more to the dreaming 
King and bade him to build a place of worship in which the Lord may dwell, for: "the sky and 
the skies above the sky are not large enough to hold me". King Bulan replies bashfully that 
he does not possess the gold and silver required for such an enterprise, "although it is my 
duty and desire to carry it out". The angel reassures him: all Bulan has to do is to lead his 
armies into Dariela and Ardabil in Armenia, where a treasure of silver and a treasure of gold 
are awaiting him. This fits in with Bulan's or Bulkhan's raid preceding the conversion; and 
also with Arab sources according to which the Khazars at one time controlled silver and gold 
mines in the Caucasus. 16 Bulan does as the angel told him, returns victoriously with the 
loot, and builds "a Holy Tabernacle equipped with a sacred coffer [the "Ark of the 
Covenant"], a candelabrum, an altar and holy implements which have been preserved to this 
day and are still in my [King Joseph's] possession". 

Joseph's letter, written in the second half of the tenth century, more than two hundred 
years after the events it purports to describe, is obviously a mixture of fact and legend. His 


description of the scant furnishings of the place of worship, and the paucity of the preserved 
relics, is in marked contrast to the account he gives in other parts of the letter of the pre- 
sent prosperity of his country. The days of his ancestor Bulan appear to him as remote antiq- 
uity, when the poor but virtuous King did not even have the money to construct the Holy 
Tabernacle - which was, after all, only a tent. 

Howeverjoseph's letter up to this point is merely the prelude to the real drama of the con- 
version, which he now proceeds to relate. Apparently Bulan's renunciation of idolatry in 
favour of the "only true God"was only the first step, which still left the choice open between 
the three monotheistic creeds. At least, this is what the continuation of Joseph's letter 
seems to imply: 

After these feats of arms [the invasion of Armenia], King Bulan's fame spread 
to all countries. The King of Edom [Byzantium] and the King of the Ishmaelim 
[the Muslims] heard the news and sent to him envoys with precious gifts and 
money and learned men to convert him to their beliefs; but the king was wise 
and sent for a Jew with much knowledge and acumen and put all three 
together to discuss their doctrines. 

So we have another Brains Trust, or round-table conference, just as in Masudi, with the dif- 
ference that the Muslim has not been poisoned beforehand. But the pattern of the argument 
is much the same. After long and futile discussions, the King adjourns the meeting for three 
days, during which the discutants are left to cool their heels in their respective tents; then 
he reverts to a stratagem. He convokes the discutants separately. He asks the Christian 
which of the other two religions is nearer the truth, and the Christian answers, "the Jews". 
He confronts the Muslim with the same question and gets the same reply. Neutralism has 
once more carried the day. 


So much for the conversion. What else do we learn from the celebrated "Khazar 
Correspondence"? To take Hasdai's letter first: it starts with a Hebrew poem, in the 
then fashionable manner of the piyut, a rhapsodic verse form which contains hidden 
allusions or riddles, and frequently acrostics. The poem exalts the military victories of the 
addressee, King Joseph; at the same time, the initial letters of the lines form an acrostic 
which spells out the full name of Hasdai bar Isaac bar Ezra bar Shaprut, followed by the 
name of Menahem ben Sharuk. Now this Menahem was a celebrated Hebrew poet, lexicog- 
rapher and grammarian, a secretary and protg of Hasdai's. He was obviously given the task 
of drafting the epistle to King J oseph in his most ornate style, and he took the opportunity to 
immortalize himself by inserting his own name into the acrostic after that of his patron. 
Several other works of Menahem ben-Sharuk are preserved, and there can be no doubt that 
Hasdai's letter is his handiwork. [See Appendix III.] 

After the poem, the compliments and diplomatic flourishes, the letter gives a glowing 
account of the prosperity of Moorish Spain, and the happy condition of the J ews under its 
Caliph Abd al Rahman, "the like of which has never been known . . . And thus the derelict 
sheep were taken into care, the arms of their persecutors were paralysed, and the yoke was 
discarded. The country we live in is called in Hebrew Sepharad, but the Ishmaelites who 
inhabit it call it al-Andalus." 

Hasdai then proceeds to explain how he first heard about the existence of the J ewish king- 
dom from the merchants of Khurasan, then in more detail from the Byzantine envoys, and he 
reports what these envoys told him: 

/ questioned them [the Byzantines] about it and they replied that it was true, 
and that the name of the kingdom is al-Khazar. Between Constantinople and 
this country there is a journey of fifteen days by sea, [This probably refers to 
the so-Called "Khazarian route": from Constantinople across the Black Sea 
and up the Don, then across the Don-Volga portage and down the Volga to It'll. 
(An alternative, shorter route was from Constantinople to the east coast of 
the Black Sea.)] but they said, by land there are many other people between 
us and them. The name of the ruling king is Joseph. Ships come to us from 
their land, bringing fish, furs and all sorts of merchandise. They are in 
alliance with us, and honoured by us. We exchange embassies and gifts. They 
are powerful and have a fortress for their outposts and troops which go out on 
forays from time to time. [The fortress is evidently Sarkel on the Don. "They 
are honoured by us"fits in with the passage in Constantine Born-in-the-Purple 
about the special gold seal used in letters to the Kagan. Constantine was the 
Byzantine Emperor at the time of the Embassy to Spain.] 

This bit of information offered by Hasdai to the Khazar King about the King's own country is 
obviously intended to draw a detailed reply from Joseph. It was good psychology: Hasdai must 
have known that criticism of erroneous statements flows easier from the pen than an original 

Next, Hasdai relates his earlier efforts to get in touch with J oseph. First he had sent a mes- 
senger, a certain Isaac bar Nathan, with instructions to proceed to the Khazar court. But Isaac 


got only as far as Constantinople, where he was courteously treated, but prevented from con- 
tinuing the journey. (Understandably so: given the Empire's ambivalent attitude towards the 
J ewish kingdom, it was certainly not in Constantine's interest to facilitate an alliance between 
Khazaria and the Cordoba Caliphate with its Jewish Chief Minister.) So Hasdai's messenger 
returned to Spain, mission unaccomplished. But soon another opportunity offered itself: the 
arrival at Cordoba of an embassy from Eastern Europe. Among its members were two Jews, 
Mar Saul and Mar Joseph, who offered to deliver Hasdai's letter to King Joseph. (According to 
J oseph's reply to Hasdai, it was actually delivered by a third person, one Isaac ben-Eliezer.) 

Having thus described in detail how his letter came to be written, and his efforts to have it 
delivered, Hasdai proceeds to ask a series of direct questions which reflect his avidity for 
more information about every aspect of the Khazar land, from its geography to its rites in 
observing the Sabbath. The concluding passage in Hasdai's letter strikes a note quite differ- 
ent from that of its opening paragraphs: 

/ feel the urge to know the truth, whether there is really a place on this earth 
where harassed Israel can rule itself, where it is subject to nobody. If I were to 
know that this is indeed the case, I would not hesitate to forsake all honours, 
to resign my high office, to abandon my family, and to travel over mountains 
and plains, over land and water, until I arrived at the place where my Lord, the 
[I ewish] King rules . . . And I also have one more request: to be informed 
whether you have any knowledge of [the possible date] of the Final Miracle [the 
coming of the Messiah] which, wandering from country to country, we are await- 
ing. Dishonoured and humiliated in our dispersion, we have to listen in silence 
to those who say: "every nation has its own land and you alone possess not 
even a shadow of a country on this earth". 

The beginning of the letter praises the happy lot of the J ews in Spain; the end breathes the 
bitterness of the exile, Zionist fervour and Messianic hope. But these opposite attitudes have 
always co-existed in the divided heart of Jews throughout their history. The contradiction in 
Hasdai's letter gives it an added touch of authenticity. How far his implied offer to enter into 
the service of the Khazar King is to be taken seriously is another question, which we cannot 
answer. Perhaps he could not either. 


King Joseph's reply is less accomplished and moving than Hasdai's letter. No wonder - 
as Cassel remarks: 'scholarship and culture reigned not among the J ews of the Volga, 
but on the rivers of Spain". The highlight of the Reply is the story of the conversion, 
already quoted. No doubt Joseph too employed a scribe for penning it, probably a scholarly 
refugee from Byzantium. Nevertheless, the Reply sounds like a voice out of the Old Testament 
compared to the polished cadences of the tenth-century modern statesman. 

It starts with a fanfare of greetings, then reiterates the main contents of Hasdai's letter, 
proudly emphasizing that the Khazar kingdom gives the lie to those who say that "the Sceptre 
ofjudah has forever fallen from the J ews' hands"and "that there is no place on earth for a 
kingdom of their own". This is followed by a rather cryptic remark to the effect that "already 
our fathers have exchanged friendly letters which are preserved in our archives and are known 
to our elders". [This may refer to a ninth-century Jewish traveller, Eldad ha-Dani, whose fan- 
tastic tales, much read in the Middle Ages, include mentions of Khazaria which, he says, is 
inhabited by three of the lost tribes of Israel, and collects tributes from twenty-eight neigh- 
bouring kingdoms. Eldad visited Spain around 880 and may or may not have visited the 
Khazar country. Hasdai briefly mentions him in his letter to J oseph - as if to ask what to make 
of him.] 

Joseph then proceeds to provide a genealogy of his people. Though a fierce Jewish nation- 
alist, proud of wielding the 'sceptre ofjudah", he cannot, and does not, claim for them 
Semitic descent; he traces their ancestry not to Shem, but to Noah's third son, Japheth; or 
more precisely to J apheth's grandson, Togarma, the ancestor of all Turkish tribes. "We have 
found in the family registers of our fathers /'Joseph asserts boldly, "that Togarma had ten 
sons, and the names of their offspring are as follows: Uigur, Dursu, Avars, Huns, Basilii, 
Tarniakh, Khazars, Zagora, Bulgars, Sabir. We are the sons of Khazar, the seventh . . ." 

The identity of some of these tribes, with names spelt in the Hebrew script is rather dubi- 
ous, but that hardly matters; the characteristic feature in this genealogical exercise is the 
amalgamation of Genesis with Turkish tribal tradition. [It also throws a sidelight on the fre- 
quent description of the Khazars as the people of Magog. Magog, according to Genesis X, 2-3 
was the much maligned uncle of Togarma.] 

After the genealogy, Joseph mentions briefly some military conquests by his ancestors 
which carried them as far as the Danube; then follows at great length the story of Bulan's 
conversion. "From this day onwards,"J oseph continues, "the Lord gave him strength and 
aided him; he had himself and his followers circumcized and sent for Jewish sages who 
taught him the Law and explained the Commandments/There follow more boasts about mili- 
tary victories, conquered nations, etc., and then a significant passage: 

After these events, one of his [Bulan's] grandsons became King; his name was 
Obadiab, he was a brave and venerated man who reformed the Rule, fortified 


the Law according to tradition and usage, built synagogues and schools, 
assembled a multitude of Israel's sages, gave them lavish gifts of gold and sil- 
ver, and made them interpret the twenty-four [sacred] books, the Mishna 
[Precepts] and the Talmud, and the order in which the liturgies are to be said. 

This indicates that, about a couple of generations after Bulan, a religious revival or reforma- 
tion took place (possibly accompanied by a coup d'etat on the lines envisaged byArtamonov). 
It seems indeed that the J udaization of the Khazars proceeded in several steps. We remem- 
ber that King Bulan drove out "the sorcerers and idolaters" before the angel appeared to him; 
and that he made his Covenant with the "true God" before deciding whether He was the 
Jewish, Christian or Muslim God. It seems highly probable that the conversion of King Bulan 
and his followers was another intermediary step, that they embraced a primitive or rudimen- 
tary form of Judaism, based on the Bible alone, excluding the Talmud, all rabbinical literature, 
and the observances derived from it. In this respect they resembled the Karaites, a funda- 
mentalist sect which originated in the eighth century in Persia and spread among Jews all 
over the world particularly in "Little Khazaria", i.e., the Crimea. Dunlop and some other 
authorities surmised that between Bulan and Obadiah (i.e., roughly between 740 and 800) 
some form of Karaism prevailed in the country, and that orthodox "Rabbinic"J udaism was only 
introduced in the course of Obadiah's religious reform. The point is of some importance 
because Karaism apparently survived in Khazaria to the end, and villages of Turkish-speaking 
Karaite Jews, obviously of Khazar origin, still existed in modern times (see below, Chapter V, 

Thus the J udaization of the Khazars was a gradual process which, triggered off by political 
expediency, slowly penetrated into the deeper strata of their minds and eventually produced 
the Messianism of their period of decline. Their religious commitment survived the collapse 
of their state, and persisted, as we shall see, in the Khazar-J ewish settlements of Russia and 


A fter mentioning Obadiah's religious reforms, Joseph gives a list of his successors: 

Hiskia his son, and his son Manasseh, and Chanukah the brother of Obadiah, 
and Isaac his son, Manasseh his son, Nissi his son, Menahem his son, 
Benjamin his son, Aaron his son, and I am Joseph, son of Aaron the Blessed, 
and we were all sons of Kings, and no stranger was allowed to occupy the 
throne of our fathers. 

Next, J oseph attempts to answer Hasdai's questions about the size and topography of his 
country. But he does not seem to have a competent person at his court who could match the 
skill of the Arab geographers, and his obscure references to other countries and nations add 
little to what we know from Ibn Hawkal, Masudi and the other Persian and Arabic sources. He 
claims to collect tribute from thirty-seven nations - which seems a rather tall proposition; yet 
Dunlop points out that nine of these appear to be tribes living in the Khazar heartland, and 
the remaining twenty-eight agree quite well with Ibn Fadlan's mention of twenty-five wives, 
each the daughter of a vassal king (and also with Eldad ha-Dani's dubious tales). We must 
further bear in mind the multitude of Slavonic tribes along the upper reaches of the Dnieper 
and as far as Moscow, which, as we shall see, paid tribute to the Khazars. 

However that may be, there is no reference in J oseph's letter to a royal harem - only a men- 
tion of a single queen and her maids and eunuchs'. These are said to live in one of the three 
boroughs of Joseph's capital, Itil: "in the second live Israelites, Ishmaelis, Christians and 
other nations who speak other languages; the third, which is an island, I inhabit myself, with 
the princes, bondsmen and all the servants that belong to me ... . [This division of Itil into 
three parts is also mentioned, as we have seen, in some of the Arab sources. ]We live in the 
town through the whole of winter, but in the month of Nisan [March- April] we set out and 
everyone goes to labour in his field and his garden; every clan has his hereditary estate, for 
which they head with joy and jubilation; no voice of an intruder can be heard there, no enemy 
is to be seen. The country does not have much rain, but there are many rivers with a multi- 
tude of big fish, and many sources, and it is generally fertile and fat in its fields and vine- 
yards, gardens and orchards which are irrigated by the rivers and bear rich fruit ... and with 
God's help I live in peace." 

The next passage is devoted to the date of the coming of the Messiah: 

We have our eyes on the sages of Jerusalem and Babylon, and although we live 
far away from Hon, we have nevertheless heard that the calculations are erro- 
neous owing to the great profusion of sins, and we know nothing, only the 
Eternal knows how to keep the count. We have nothing to hold on only the 
prophecies of Daniel, and may the Eternal speed up our Deliverance . . . 

The concluding paragraph of Joseph's letter is a reply to Hasdai's apparent offer to enter 
into the service of the Khazar king: 


Thou hast mentioned in thy letter a desire to see my face. I too wish and long 
to behold thy gracious face and the splendour of thy magnificence, wisdom and 
greatness; I wish that thy words will come true, that I should know the happi- 
ness to hold thee in my embrace and to see thy dear, friendly and agreeable 
face; thou wouldst be to me as a father, and I to thee as a son; all my people 
would kiss thy lips; we would come and go according to thy wishes and thy 
wise counsel. 

There is a passage in Joseph's letter which deals with topical politics, and is rather 

With the help of the Almighty I guard the mouth of the river [the Volga] and do 
not permit the Rus who come in their ships to invade the land of the Arabs . . . 
I fight heavy wars with them [the Rus] for if I allowed it they would devastate 
the lands oflshmael even to Baghdad. 

Joseph here appears to pose as the defender of the Baghdad Caliphate against the 
Norman-Rus raiders (see Chapter III). This might seem a little tactless in view of the bitter 
hostility between the Omayad Caliphate of Cordoba (which Hasdai is serving) and the Abassid 
Caliphs of Baghdad. On the other hand, the vagaries of Byzantine policy towards the Khazars 
made it expedient for Joseph to appear in the role of a defender of Islam, regardless of the 
schism between the two Caliphates. At least he could hope that Hasdai, the experienced 
diplomat, would take the hint. 

The meeting between the two correspondents - if ever seriously intended - never took 
place. No further letters - if any were exchanged - have been preserved. The factual content 
of the "Khazar Correspondence"is meagre, and adds little to what was already known from 
other sources. Its fascination lies in the bizarre, fragmentary vistas that it conveys, like an 
erratic searchlight focussing on disjointed regions in the dense fog that covers the period. 


Among other Hebrew sources, there is the "Cambridge Document"(so called after its pre- 
sent location in the Cambridge University Library). It was discovered at the end of the 
last century, together with other priceless documents in the "Cairo Geniza", the store- 
room of an ancient synagogue, by the Cambridge scholar, Solomon Schechter. The document 
is in a bad state; it is a letter (or copy of a letter) consisting of about a hundred lines in 
Hebrew; the beginning and the end are missing, so that it is impossible to know who wrote it 
and to whom it was addressed. King Joseph is mentioned in it as a contemporary and 
referred to as "my Lord", Khazaria is called "our land"; so the most plausible inference is that 
the letter was written by a Khazar J ew of King J oseph's court in J oseph's lifetime, i.e., that it 
is roughly contemporaneous with the "Khazar Correspondence". Some authorities have fur- 
ther suggested that it was addressed to Hasdai ibn Shaprut, and handed in Constantinople to 
Hasdai's unsuccessful envoy, Isaac bar Nathan, who brought it back to Cordoba (whence it 
found its way to Cairo when the J ews were expelled from Spain). At any rate, internal evidence 
indicates that the document originated not later than in the eleventh century, and more likely 
in J oseph's lifetime, in the tenth. 

It contains another legendary account of the conversion, but its main significance is politi- 
cal. The writer speaks of an attack on Khazaria by the Alans, acting under Byzantine instiga- 
tion, under Joseph's father, Aaron the Blessed. No other Greek or Arab source seems to 
mention this campaign. But there is a significant passage in Constantine Porphyrogenitus's 
De Adminisdrando Imperio, written in 947-50, which lends some credibility to the unknown let- 
ter-writer's statements: 

Concerning Khazaria, how war is to be made upon them and by whom. As the 
Ghuzz are able to make war on the Khazars, being near them, so likewise the 
ruler of Alania, because the Nine Climates of Khazaria [the fertile region north 
of the Caucasus] are close to Alania, and the Alan can, if he wishes, raid them 
and cause great damage and distress to the Khazars from that quarter. 

Now, according to J oseph's Letter, the ruler of the Alans paid tribute to him, and whether in 
fact he did or not, his feelings toward the Kagan were probably much the same as the Bulgar 
King's. The passage in Constantine, revealing his efforts to incite the Alans to war against the 
Khazars, ironically reminds one of Ibn Fadlan's mission with a parallel purpose. Evidently, the 
days of the Byzantine-Khazar rapprochement were long past in J oseph's time. But I am antici- 
pating later developments, to be discussed in Chapter III. 


About a century after the Khazar Correspondence and the presumed date of the 
Cambridge Document, Jehuda Halevi wrote his once celebrated book, Kuzari, the 
Khazars. Halevi (1085-1141) is generally considered the greatest Hebrew poet of 
Spain; the book, however, was written in Arabic and translated later into Hebrew; its sub-title 
is "The Book of Proof and Argument in Defence of the Despised Faith". 


Halevi was a Zionist who died on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem; the Kuzari, written a year 
before his death, is a philosophical tract propounding the view that the J ewish nation is the 
sole mediator between God and the rest of mankind. At the end of history, all other nations 
will be converted to Judaism; and the conversion of the Khazars appears as a symbol or 
token of that ultimate event. .In spite of its title, the tract has little to say about the Khazar 
country itself, which serves mainly as a backdrop for yet another legendary account of the 
conversion - the King, the angel, the J ewish scholar, etc. - and for the philosophical and the- 
ological dialogues between the King and the protagonists of the three religions. 

However, there are a few factual references, which indicate that Halevi had either read the 
correspondence between Hasdai and J oseph or had other sources of information about the 
Khazar country. Thus we are informed that after the appearance of the angel the King of the 
Khazars "revealed the secret of his dream to the General of his army", and "the 
General"also looms large later on - another obvious reference to the dual rule of Kagan and 
Bek. Halevi also mentions the "histories"and "books of the Khazars"- which reminds one of 
Joseph speaking of "our archives", where documents of state are kept. Lastly, Halevi twice, 
in different places of the book, gives the date of the conversion as having taken place "400 
years ago"and "in the year 4500"(according to the J ewish calendar). This points to AD 740, 
which is the most likely date. All in all, it is a poor harvest as far as factual statements are 
concerned, from a book that enjoyed immense popularity among the Jews of the Middle 
Ages. But the mediaeval mind was less attracted by fact than by fable, and the Jews were 
more interested in the date of the coming of the Messiah than in geographical data. The 
Arab geographers and chroniclers had a similarly cavalier attitude to distances, dates and 
the frontiers between fact and fancy. 

This also applies to the famed German-Jewish traveller, Rabbi Petachia of Ratisbon, who 
visited Eastern Europe and western Asia between 1170 and 1185. His travelogue, Sibub 
Ha'olam, "Journey around the World", was apparently written by a pupil, based on his notes 
or on dictation. It relates how shocked the good Rabbi was by the primitive observances of 
the Khazar Jews north of the Crimea, which he attributed to their adherence to the Karaite 

And the Rabbi Petachia asked them: "Why do you not believe in the words of 
the sages [i.e., the Talmudists]? "They replied: "Because our fathers did not 
teach them to us.'Vn the eve of the Sabbath they cut all the bread which they 
eat on the Sabbath. They eat it in the dark, and sit the whole day on one spot. 
Their prayers consist only of the psalms. 17 [Spending the Sabbath in the dark 
was a well-known Karaite custom.] 

So incensed was the Rabbi that, when he subsequently crossed the Khazar heartland, all 
he had to say was that it took him eight days, during which "he heard the wailing of women 
and the barking of dogs". 18 

He does mention, however, that while he was in Baghdad, he had seen envoys from the 
Khazar kingdom looking for needy J ewish scholars from Mesopotamia and even from Egypt, 
"to teach their children Torah and Talmud". 

While few Jewish travellers from the West undertook the hazardous journey to the Volga, 
they recorded encounters with Khazar Jews at all principal centres of the civilized world. 
Rabbi Petachia met them in Baghdad; Benjamin of Tudela, another famous traveller of the 
twelfth century, visited Khazar notables in Constantinople and Alexandria; Ibraham ben 
Daud, a contemporary of J udah Halevi's, reports that he had seen in Toledo "some of their 
descendants, pupils of the wise". 19 Tradition has it that these were Khazar princes - one is 
tempted to think of Indian princelings sent to Cambridge to study. .Yet there is a curious 
ambivalence in the attitude toward the Khazars of the leaders of orthodox Jewry in the East, 
centred on the Talmudic Academy in Baghdad. The Gaon (Hebrew for "excellency") who 
stood at the head of the Academy was the spiritual leader of the Jewish settlements dis- 
persed all over the Near and Middle East, while the Exilarch, or "Prince of Captivity", repre- 
sented the secular power over these more or less autonomous communities. Saadiah Gaon 
(882-942), most famous among the spiritual excellencies, who left voluminous writings, 
repeatedly refers in them to the Khazars. He mentions a Mesopotamian Jew who went to 
Khazaria to settle there, as if this were an every-day occurrence. He speaks obscurely of the 
Khazar court; elsewhere he explains that in the biblical expression "Hiram of Tyre", Hiram is 
not a proper name but a royal title, "like Caliph for the Ruler of the Arabs, and Kagan for the 
King of the Khazars." 

Thus Khazaria was very much "on the map", in the literal and metaphorical sense, for the 
leaders of the ecclesiastical hierarchy of oriental Jewry; but at the same time the Khazars 
were regarded with certain misgivings, both on racial grounds and because of their sus- 
pected leanings toward the Karaite heresy. One eleventh-century Hebrew author, J apheth ibn- 
Ali, himself a Karaite, explains the word mamzer, "bastard", by the example of the Khazars 
who became Jews without belonging to the Race. His contemporary, Jacob ben-Reuben, 
reflects the opposite side of this ambivalent attitude by speaking of the Khazars as "a single 
nation who do not bear the yoke of the exile, but are great warriors paying no tribute to the 

In summing up the Hebrew sources on the Khazars that have come down to us, one 
senses a mixed reaction of enthusiasm, scepticism and, above all, bewilderment. A warrior- 
nation of Turkish J ews must have seemed to the rabbis as strange as a circumcized unicorn. 


During a thousand years of Dispersion, the Jews had forgotten what it was like to have a 
king and a country. The Messiah was more real to them than the Kagan. .As a postscript to 
the Arab and Hebrew sources relating to the conversion, it should be mentioned that the 
apparently earliest Christian source antedates them both. At some date earlier than 864, 
the Westphalian monk, Christian Druthmar of Aquitania, wrote a Latin treatise Expositio in 
Evangelium Mattei, in which he reports that "there exist people under the sky in regions 
where no Christians can be found, whose name is Gog and Magog, and who are Huns; 
among them is one, called the Gazari, who are circumcized and observe Judaism in its 
entirety". This remark occurs apropos of Matthew 24.14 ["And this Gospel of the Kingdom 
shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end 
come."] which has no apparent bearing on it, and no more is heard of the subject. 


At about the same time when Druthmar wrote down what he knew from hearsay about 
the Jewish Khazars, a famed Christian missionary, sent by the Byzantine Emperor, 
attempted to convert them to Christianity. He was no less a figure than St Cyril, 
"Apostle of the Slavs", alleged designer of the Cyrillic alphabet. He and his elder brother, St 
Methodius, were entrusted with this and other proselytizing missions by the Emperor 
M ichael III, on the advice of the Patriarch Photius (himself apparently of Khazar descent, for 
it is reported that the Emperor once called him in anger "Khazar face"). 

Cyril's proselytizing efforts seem to have been successful among the Slavonic people in 
Eastern Europe, but not among the Khazars. He travelled to their country via Cherson in the 
Crimea; in Cherson he is said to have spent six months learning Hebrew in preparation for 
his mission; he then took the "Khazarian Way"- the Don-Volga portage - to Itil, and from 
there travelled along the Caspian to meet the Kagan (it is not said where). The usual theo- 
logical disputations followed, but they had little impact on the Khazar Jews Even the adula- 
tory Vita Constantine (Cyril's original name) says only that Cyril made a good impression on 
the Kagan, that a few people were baptized and two hundred Christian prisoners were 
released by the Kagan as a gesture of goodwill. It was the least he could do for the 
Emperor's envoy who had gone to so much trouble. 

There is a curious sidelight thrown on the story by students of Slavonic philology. Cyril is 
credited by tradition not only with having devised the Cyrillic but also the Glagolytic alphabet. 
The latter, according to Baron, was "used in Croatia to the seventeenth century. Its indebt- 
edness to the Hebrew alphabet in at least eleven characters, representing in part the 
Slavonic sounds, has long been recognized". (The eleven characters are A, B, V, G, E, K, P R, 
S, Sch, T) This seems to confirm what has been said earlier on about the influence of the 
Hebrew alphabet in spreading literacy among the neighbours of the Khazars. 



1 Bury, op. cit, p. 401. 

2 Ibid, p. 406. 

3 Sharf, A. (1971), p. 61. 

3a Quoted by Dunlop (1954), p. 89. 

4 Ibid., p. 84. 

5 Quoted by Sharf, p. 88. 

6 The Visions of Daniel, a chronicle disguised as an ancient prophecy. Quoted by Sharf, 
p. 201. 

7 Quoted by Poliak, 413; Dunlop, p. 119. 

8 Poliak (4/3) quoting Chwolson, D. A. (1865). 

9 Poliak, 4/3; Baron III, p. 210 and n. 47. 

10 Poliak, loc. cit. 

11 Quoted by Marquart (1903),p. 6. 

12 Quoted by Dunlop (1954), p. 90. 

13 Bury, op. cit., p. 408. 

14 Sharf, p. lOOn. 

15 Bury, p. 406n. 

16 Dunlop (1954), p. 227. 

17 Baron, S. W. (1957), Vol. Ill, p. 201f. 

18 Dunlop, p. 220. 

19 Baron, Vol III, p. 203. 


The Thirteenth Tribe 

Arthur Koestler 



IT was", wrote D. Sinor, 1 "in the second half of the eighth century that the Khazar empire 
reached the acme of its glory" that is, between the conversion of Bulan and the religious 
reform under Obadiah. This is not meant to imply that the Khazars owed their good fortune 
to their Jewish religion. It is rather the other way round: they could afford to be Jews because 
they were economically and militarily strong. 

A living symbol of their power was the Emperor Leo the Khazar, who ruled Byzantium in 775- 
80 - so named after his mother, the Khazar Princess "Flower" - the one who created a new 
fashion at the court. We remember that her marriage took place shortly after the great Khazar 
victory over the Muslims in the battle of Ardabil, which is mentioned in the letter of Joseph 
and other sources. The two events, Dunlop remarks, "are hardly unrelated". 2 

However, amidst the cloak-and-dagger intrigues of the period, dynastic marriages and 
betrothals could be dangerous. They repeatedly gave cause - or at least provided a pretext - 
for starting a war. The pattern was apparently set by Attila, the erstwhile overlord of the 
Khazars. In 450 Attila is said to have received a message, accompanied by an engagement 
ring, from Honoria, sister to the West Roman Emperor Valentinian III. This romantic and ambi- 
tious lady begged the Hun chieftain to rescue her from a fate worse than death - a forced 
marriage to an old Senator - and sent him her ring. Attila promptly claimed her as his bride, 
together with half the Empire as her dowry; and when Valentinian refused, Attila invaded Gaul. 

Several variations on this quasi-archetypal theme crop up throughout Khazar history. We 
remember the fury of the Bulgar King about the abduction of his daughter, and how he gave 
this incident as the main reason for his demand that the Caliph should build him a fortress 
against the Khazars. If we are to believe the Arab sources, similar incidents (though with a dif- 
ferent twist) led to the last flare-up of the Khazar-Muslim wars at the end of the eighth cen- 
tury, after a protracted period of peace. 

According to al-Tabari, in AD 798, [The date, however, is uncertain, the Caliph ordered the 
Governor of Armenia to make the Khazar frontier even more secure by marrying a daughter of 
the Kagan. This governor was a member of the powerful family of the Barmecides (which, inci- 
dentally, reminds one of the prince of that eponymous family in the Arabian Nights who invited 
the beggar to a feast consisting of rich dish-covers with nothing beneath). The Barmecide 
agreed, and the Khazar Princess with her suite and dowry was duly dispatched to him in a lux- 
urious cavalcade (see I, 10). But she died in childbed; the newborn died too; and her 
courtiers, on their return to Khazaria, insinuated to the Kagan that she had been poisoned. 
The Kagan promptly invaded Armenia and took (according to two Arab sources) 3 50 000 pris- 
oners. The Caliph was forced to release thousands of criminals from his gaols and arm them 
to stem the Khazar advance. 

The Arab sources relate at least one more eighth-century incident of a misfired dynastic 
marriage followed by a Khazar invasion; and for good measure the Georgian Chronicle has a 
particularly gruesome one to add to the list (in which the royal Princess, instead of being poi- 
soned, kills herself to escape the Kagan's bed). The details and exact dates are, as usual, 
doubtful, 4 and so is the real motivation behind these campaigns. But the recurrent mention in 
the chronicles of bartered brides and poisoned queens leaves little doubt that this theme had 
a powerful impact on people's imagination, and possibly also on political events. 


No more is heard about Khazar-Arab fighting after the end of the eighth century. As we 
enter the ninth, the Khazars seemed to enjoy several decades of peace at least, there 
is little mention of them in the chronicles, and no news is good news in history. The 
southern frontiers of their country had been pacified; relations with the Caliphate had settled 
down to a tacit non-aggression pact; relations with Byzantium continued to be definitely 
Yet in the middle of this comparatively idyllic period there is an ominous episode which fore- 


shadowed new dangers. In 833, or thereabouts, the Khazar Kagan and Bek sent an embassy 
to the East Roman Emperor Theophilus, asking for skilled architects and craftsmen to build 
them a fortress on the lower reaches of the Don. The Emperor responded with alacrity. He 
sent a fleet across the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov up the mouth of the Don to the strate- 
gic spot where the fortress was to be built. Thus came Sarkel into being, the famous fortress 
and priceless archaeological site, virtually the only one that yielded clues to Khazar history - 
until it was submerged in the Tsimlyansk reservoir, adjoining the Volga-Don canal. Constantine 
Porphyrogenitus, who related the episode in some detail, says that since no stones were 
available in the region, Sarkel was built of bricks, burnt in specially constructed kilns. He does 
not mention the curious fact (discovered by Soviet archaeologists while the site was still 
accessible) that the builders also used marble columns of Byzantine origin, dating from the 
sixth century, and probably salvaged from some Byzantine ruin; a nice example of Imperial 
thrift. 5 

The potential enemy against whom this impressive fortress was built by joint Roman-Khazar 
effort, were those formidable and menacing newcomers on the world scene, whom the West 
called Vikings or Norsemen, and the East called Rhous or Rhos or Rus. 

Two centuries earlier, the conquering Arabs had advanced on the civilized world in a gigantic 
pincer movement, its left prong reaching across the Pyrenees, its right prong across the 
Caucasus. Now, during the Viking Age, history seemed to create a kind of mirror image of that 
earlier phase. The initial explosion which had triggered off the Muslim wars of conquest took 
place in the southernmost region of the known world, the Arabian desert. The Viking raids and 
conquests originated in its northernmost region, Scandinavia. The Arabs advanced northward 
by land, the Norsemen southward by sea and waterways. The Arabs were, at least in theory, 
conducting a Holy War, the Vikings waged unholy wars of piracy and plunder; but the results, 
as far as the victims were concerned, were much the same. In neither case have historians 
been able to provide convincing explanations of the economical, ecological or ideological rea- 
sons which transformed these apparently quiescent regions of Arabia and Scandinavia quasi 
overnight into volcanoes of exuberant vitality and reckless enterprise. Both eruptions spent 
their force within a couple of centuries but left a permanent mark on the world. Both evolved 
in this time-span from savagery and destructiveness to splendid cultural achievement. 

About the time when Sarkel was built by joint Byzantine-Khazar efforts in anticipation of 
attack by the eastern Vikings, their western branch had already penetrated all the major 
waterways of Europe and conquered half of Ireland. Within the next few decades they colo- 
nized Iceland, conquered Normandy, repeatedly sacked Paris, raided Germany, the Rhne delta, 
the gulf of Genoa, circumnavigated the Iberian peninsula and attacked Constantinople 
through the Mediterranean and the Dardanelles - simultaneously with a Rus attack down the 
Dnieper and across the Black Sea. As Toynbee wrote: 6 "In the ninth century, which was the 
century in which the Rhos impinged on the Khazars and on the East Romans, the 
Scandinavians were raiding and conquering and colonizing in an immense arc that eventually 
extended south-westward ... to North America and southeastward to . . . the Caspian Sea." 

No wonder that a special prayer was inserted in the litanies of the West: A furore 
Normannorum libera nos Domine. No wonder that Constantinople needed its Khazar allies as 
a protective shield against the carved dragons on the bows of the Viking ships, as it had 
needed them a couple of centuries earlier against the green banners of the Prophet. And, as 
on that earlier occasion, the Khazars were again to bear the brunt of the attack, and eventu- 
ally to see their capital laid in ruins. 

Not only Byzantium had reason to be grateful to the Khazars for blocking the advance of the 
Viking fleets down the great waterways from the north. We have now gained a better under- 
standing of the cryptic passage in J oseph's letter to Hasdai, written a century later: 

"With the help of the Almighty I guard the mouth of the river and do not permit 
the Rus who come in their ships to invade the land of the Arabs . . . I fight 
heavy wars [with the Rus]." 


The particular brand of Vikings which the Byzantines called "Rhos" were called 
"Varangians" by the Arab chroniclers. The most probable derivation of "Rhos", according 
to Toynbee, is "from the Swedish word 'rodher', meaning rowers". 7 As for "Varangian", it 
was used by the Arabs and also in the Russian Primary Chronicle to designate Norsemen or 
Scandinavians; the Baltic was actually called by them "the Varangian Sea". 8 Although this 
branch of Vikings originated from eastern Sweden, as distinct from the Norwegians and 
Danes who raided Western Europe, their advance followed the same pattern. It was seasonal; 
it was based on strategically placed islands which served as strongholds, armouries and sup- 
ply bases for attacks on the mainland; and its nature evolved, where conditions were 
favourable, from predatory raids and forced commerce to more or less permanent settle- 
ments and ultimately, amalgamation with the conquered native populations. Thus the Viking 
penetration of Ireland started with the seizure of the island of Rechru (Lambay) in Dublin Bay; 
England was invaded from the isle of Thanet; penetration of the Continent started with the 
conquest of the islands of Walcheren (off Holland) and Noirmoutier (in the estuary of the 

At the eastern extreme of Europe the Northmen were following the same blueprint for con- 
quest. After crossing the Baltic and the Gulf of Finland they sailed up the river Volkhov into 


Lake llmen (south of Leningrad), where they found a convenient island - the Holmgard of the 
Icelandic Sagas. On this they built a settlement which eventually grew into the city of 
Novgorod.* [Not to be confused with Nizhny Novgorod (now re-named Gorky).] From here they 
forayed on southward on the great waterways: on the Volga into the Caspian, and on the 
Dnieper into the Black Sea. 

The former route led through the countries of the militant Bulgars and Khazars; the latter 
across the territories of various Slavonic tribes who inhabited the north-western outskirts of 
the Khazar Empire and paid tribute to the Kagan: the Polyane in the region of Kiev; the 
Viatichi, south of Moscow; the Radimishchy east of the Dnieper; the Severyane on the river 
Derna, etc.*[Constantine Porphyrogenitus and the Russian Chronicle are in fair agreement 
concering the names and locations of these tribes and their subjection to the Khazars.] 
These Slavs seemed to have developed advanced methods of agriculture, and were appar- 
ently of a more timid disposition than their "Turkish" neighbours on the Volga, for, as Bury put 
it, they became the "natural prey" of the Scandinavian raiders. These eventually came to pre- 
fer the Dnieper, in spite of its dangerous cataracts, to the Volga and the Don. It was the 
Dnieper which became the "Great Waterway" - the Austrvegr of the Nordic Sagas - from the 
Baltic to the Black Sea, and thus to Constantinople. They even gave Scandinavian names to 
the seven major cataracts, duplicating their Slavonic names; Constantine conscientiously 
enumerates both versions (e.g., Baru-fors in Norse, Volnyi in Slavonic, for "the billowy water- 

These Varangian-Rus seem to have been a unique blend unique even among their brother 
Vikings - combining the traits of pirates, robbers and meretricious merchants, who traded on 
their own terms, imposed by sword and battle-axe. They bartered furs, swords and amber in 
exchange for gold, but their principal merchandise were slaves. A contemporary Arab chroni- 
cler wrote: 

In this island [Novgorod] there are men to the number of 100000, and these 
men constantly go out to raid the Slavs in boats, and they seize the Slavs and 
take them prisoner and they go to the Khazars and Bulgars and sell them 
there. [We remember the slave market in Itil, mentioned byMasudi], They have 
no cultivated lands, nor seed, and [live by] plunder from the Slavs. When a child 
is born to them, they place a drawn sword in front of him and his father says: "I 
have neither gold nor silver, nor wealth which I can bequeath to thee, this is 
thine inheritance, with it secure prosperity for thyself." 9 

A modern historian, McEvedy, has summed it up nicely: 

Viking-Varangian activity, ranging from Iceland to the borders of Turkestan, from 
Constantinople to the Arctic circle, was of incredible vitality and daring, and it is 
sad that so much effort was wasted in plundering. The Northern heroes did not 
deign to trade until they failed to vanquish; they preferred bloodstained, glori- 
ous gold to a steady mercantile profit. 10 

Thus the Rus convoys sailing southward in the summer season were at the same time both 
commercial fleets and military armadas; the two roles went together, and with each fleet it 
was impossible to foretell at what moment the merchants would turn into warriors. The size of 
these fleets was formidable. Masudi speaks of a Rus force entering the Caspian from the 
Volga (in 912-13) as comprising "about 500 ships, each manned by 100 persons". Of these 
50000 men, he says, 35000 were killed in battle. [See below, Chapter IV, 1.] Masudi may 
have been exaggerating, but apparently not much. Even at an early stage of their exploits 
(circa 860) the Rus crossed the Black Sea and laid siege on Constantinople with a fleet vari- 
ously estimated as numbering between 200 and 230 ships. 

In view of the unpredictability and proverbial treacherousness of these formidable invaders, 
the Byzantines and Khazars had to "play it by ear" as the saying goes. For a century and a 
half after the fortress of Sarkel was built, trade agreements and the exchange of embassies 
with the Rus alternated with savage wars. Only slowly and gradually did the Northmen change 
their character by building permanent settlements, becoming Slavonized by intermingling with 
their subjects and vassals, and finally, adopting the faith of the Byzantine Church. By that 
time, the closing years of the tenth century, the "Rus" had become transformed into 
"Russians". The early Rus princes and nobles still bore Scandinavian names which had been 
Slavonized: Rurik from Hroekr, Oleg from Helgi, Igor from Ingvar, Olga from Helga, and so on. 
The commercial treaty which Prince Igor-lngvar concluded with the Byzantines in 945 contains 
a list of his companions, only three of which have Slavonic names among fifty Scandinavian 
names. 11 But the son of Ingvar and Helga assumed the Slavonic name Svyatoslav, and from 
there onward the process of assimilation got into its stride, the Varangians gradually lost their 
identity as a separate people, and the Norse tradition faded out of Russian history. 

It is difficult to form a mental picture of these bizarre people whose savagery sticks out 
even in that savage age. The chronicles are biased, written by members of nations who had 
suffered from the northern invaders; their own side of the story remains untold, for the rise of 
Scandinavian literature came long after the Age of the Vikings, when their exploits had blos- 
somed into legend. Even so, early Norse literature seems to confirm their unbridled lust for 
battle, and the peculiar kind of frenzy which seized them on these occasions; they even had a 
special word for it: berserksgangr - the berserk way. 


The Arab chroniclers were so baffled by them that they contradict not only each other, but 
also themselves, across a distance of a few lines. Our old friend Ibn Fadlan is utterly dis- 
gusted by the filthy and obscene habits of the Rus whom he met at the Volga in the land of 
the Bulgars. The following passage on the Rus occurs just before his account of the Khazars, 
quoted earlier on: 

They are the filthiest creatures of the Lord. In the morning a servant girl brings 
a basin full of water to the master of the household; he rinses his face and hair 
in it, spits and blows his nose into the basin, which the girl then hands on to 
the next person, who does likewise, until all who are in the house have used 
that basin to blow their noses, spit and wash their face and hair in it. 12 

In contrast to this, Ibn Rusta writes about the same time: "They are cleanly in regard to 
their clothing" - and leaves it at that. 13 

Again, Ibn Fadlan is indignant about the Rus copulating and defecating in public, including 
their King, whereas Ibn Rusta and Gardezi know nothing of such revolting habits. But their 
own accounts are equally dubious and inconsistent. Thus Ibn Rusta: "They honour their 
guests and are kind to strangers who seek shelter with them, and everyone who is in misfor- 
tune among them. 14 They do not allow anyone among them to tyrannize them, and whoever 
among them does wrong or is oppressive, they find out such a one and expel him from among 

But a few paragraphs further down he paints a quite different picture - or rather vignette, of 
conditions in Rus society: 

Wot one of them goes to satisfy a natural need alone, but he is accompanied 
by three of his companions who guard him between them, and each one of 
them has his sword because of the lack of security and treachery among them, 
for if a man has even a little wealth, his own brother and his friend who is with 
him covet it and seek to kill and despoil him. 15 

Regarding their martial virtues, however, the sources are Unanimous: 

These people are vigorous and courageous and when they descend on open 
ground, none can escape from them without being destroyed and their women 
taken possession of, and themselves taken into slavery 16 


Such were the prospects which now faced the Khazars. Sarkel was built just in time; it 
enabled them to control the movements of the Rus flotillas along the lower reaches of 
the Don and the Don-Volga portage (the "Khazarian Way"). By and large it seems that 
during the first century of their presence on the scene [Very roughly, 830 1.-930.] the plun- 
dering raids of the Rus were mainly directed against Byzantium (where, obviously, richer plun- 
der was to be had), whereas their relations with the Khazars were essentially on a trading 
basis, though not without friction and intermittent clashes. At any rate, the Khazars were able 
to control the Rus trade routes and to levy their 10 per cent tax on all cargoes passing 
through their country to Byzantium and to the Muslim lands. 

They also exerted some cultural influence on the Northmen, who, for all their violent ways, 
had a naive willingness to learn from the people with whom they came into contact. The 
extent of this influence is indicated by the adoption of the title "Kagan" by the early Rus 
rulers of Novgorod. This is confirmed by both Byzantine and Arab sources; for instance, Ibn 
Rusta, after describing the island on which Novgorod was built, states "They have a king who 
is called Kagan Rus." Moreover, Ibn Fadlan reports that the Kagan Rus has a general who 
leads the army and represents him to the people. Zeki Validi has pointed out that such dele- 
gation of the army command was unknown among the Germanic people of the North, where 
the king must be the foremost warrior; Validi concludes that the Rus obviously imitated the 
Khazar system of twin rule. This is not unlikely in view of the fact that the Khazars were the 
most prosperous and culturally advanced people with whom the Rus in the early stages of 
their conquests made territorial contact. And that contact must have been fairly intense, 
since there was a colony of Rus merchants in Itil - and also a community of Khazar Jews in 

It is sad to report in this context that more than a thousand years after the events under 
discussion, the Soviet regime has done its best to expunge the memory of the Khazars' his- 
toric role and cultural achievements. On January 12, 1952, The Times carried the following 
news item: 



Another Soviet historian has been criticized by Pravda for belittling the early cul- 


ture and development of the Russian people. He is Professor Artamonov, who, 
at a recent session of the Department of History and Philosophy at the USSR 
Academy of Sciences, repeated a theory which he had put forward in a book in 
1937 that the ancient city of Kiev owed a great deal to the Khazar peoples. He 
pictures them in the role of an advanced people who fell victim to the aggres- 
sive aspirations of the Russians. 

"All these things," says Pravda, "have nothing in common with historical facts. 
The Khazar kingdom which represented the primitive amalgamation of different 
tribes, played no positive role whatever in creating the statehood of the eastern 
Slavs. Ancient sources testify that state formations arose among the eastern 
Slavs long before any record of the Khazars. 

The Khazar kingdom, far from promoting the development of the ancient 
Russian State, retarded the progress of the eastern Slav tribes. The materials 
obtained by our archaeologists indicate the high level of culture in ancient 
Russia. Only by flouting the historical truth and neglecting the facts can one 
speak of the superiority of the Khazar culture. The idealization of the Khazar 
kingdom reflects a manifest survival of the defective views of the bourgeois 
historians who belittled the indigenous development of the Russian people. 
The erroneous ness of this concept is evident. Such a conception cannot be 
accepted by Soviet historiography." 

Artamonov, whom I have frequently quoted, published (besides numerous articles in 
learned journals) his first book, which dealt with the early history of the Khazars, in 1937. His 
magnum opus, History of the Khazars, was apparently in preparation when Pravda struck. As a 
result, the book was published only ten years later - 1962 - carrying a recantation in its final 
section which amounted to a denial of all that went before - and, indeed, of the author's life- 
work. The relevant passages in it read: 

The Khazar kingdom disintegrated and fell into pieces, from which the majority 
merged with other related peoples, and the minority, settling in Itil, lost its 
nationality and turned into a parasitic class with a Jewish coloration. 

The Russians never shunned the cultural achievements of the East . . . But 
from the Itil Khazars the Russians took nothing. Thus also by the way the mili- 
tant Khazar J udaism was treated by other peoples connected with it: the 
Magyars, Bulgars, Pechenegs, Alans and Polovtsians . . . The need to struggle 
with the exploiters from Itil stimulated the unification of the Ghuzz and the 
Slavs around the golden throne of Kiev, and this unity in its turn created the 
possibility and prospect for a violent growth not only of the Russian state sys- 
tem, but also of ancient Russian culture. This culture had always been original 
and never depended on Khazar influence. Those insignificant eastern elements 
in Rus culture which were passed down by the Khazars and which one usually 
bears in mind when dealing with the problems of culture ties between the Rus 
and the Khazars, did not penetrate into the heart of Russian culture, but 
remained on the surface and were of short duration and small significance. 
They offer no ground at all for pointing out a "Khazar" period in the history of 
Russian culture. 

The dictates of the Party line completed the process of obliteration which started with the 
flooding of the remains of Sarkel. 


Intensive trading and cultural interchanges did not prevent the Rus from gradually eating 
their way into the Khazar Empire by appropriating their Slavonic subjects and vassals. 
According to the Primary Russian Chronicle, by 859 - that is, some twenty-five years after 
Sarkel was built - the tribute from the Slavonic peoples was "divided between the Khazars 
and the Varangians from beyond the Baltic Sea". The Varangians levied tribute on "Chuds", 
"Krivichians", etc. - i.e., the more northerly Slavonic people - while the Khazars continued to 
levy tribute on the Viatichi, the Seviane, and, most important of all, the Polyane in the central 
region of Kiev. But not for long. Three years later if we can trust the dating (in the Russian 
Chronicle), the key town of Kiev on the Dnieper, previously under Khazar suzerainty, passed 
into Rus hands. 

This was to prove a decisive event in Russian history, though it apparently happened with- 
out an armed struggle. According to the Chronicle, Novgorod was at the time ruled by the 
(semilegendary) Prince Rurik (Hroekr), who held under his sway all the Viking settlements, the 
northern Slavonic, and some Finnish people. Two of Rurik's men, Oskold and Dir, on travelling 
down the Dnieper, saw a fortified place on a mountain, the sight of which they liked; and were 


told that this was the town of Kiev, and that it "paid tribute to the Khazars". The two settled in 
the town with their families, "gathered many Northmen to them, and ruled over the neighbour- 
ing Slavs, even as Rurik ruled at Novgorod. Some twenty years later Rurik's son Oleg [Helgi] 
came down and putOskold and Dirto death, and annexed Kiev to his sway." 

Kiev soon outshone Novgorod in importance: it became the capital of the Varangians and 
"the mother of Russian towns"; while the principality which took its name became the cradle 
of the first Russian state. 

Joseph's letter, written about a century after the Rus occupation of Kiev, no longer men- 
tions it in his list of Khazar possessions. But influential Khazar-Jewish communities survived 
both in the town and province of Kiev, and after the final destruction of their country they were 
reinforced by large numbers of Khazar emigrants. The Russian Chronicle keeps referring to 
heroes coming from Zemlya Zhidovskaya, "the country of the Jews"; and the "Gate of the 
Khazars" in Kiev kept the memory of its erstwhile rulers alive till modern times. 


We have now progressed into the second half of the ninth century and, before continu- 
ing with the tale of the Russian expansion, must turn our attention to some vital 
developments among the people of the steppes, particularly the Magyars. These 
events ran parallel with the rise of Rus power and had a direct impact on the Khazars - and 
on the map of Europe. 

The Magyars had been the Khazars' allies, and apparently willing vassals, since the dawn 
of the Khazar Empire. "The problem of their origin and early wanderings have long perplexed 
scholars", Macartney wrote; 17 elsewhere he calls it "one of the darkest of historical rid- 
dles". 18 About their origin all we know with certainty is that the Magyars were related to the 
Finns, and that their language belongs to the so-called Finno-Ugrian language family, together 
with that of the Vogul and Ostyak people living in the forest regions of the northern Urals. 
Thus they were originally unrelated to the Slavonic and Turkish nations of the steppes in 
whose midst they came to live - an ethnic curiosity, which they still are to this day. Modern 
Hungary, unlike other small nations, has no linguistic ties with its neighbours; the Magyars 
have remained an ethnic enclave in Europe, with the distant Finns as their only cousins. 

At an unknown date during the early centuries of the Christian era this nomadic tribe was 
driven out of its erstwhile habitat in the Urals and migrated southward through the steppes, 
eventually settling in the region between the Don and the Kuban rivers. They thus became 
neighbours of the Khazars, even before the latter's rise to prominence. For a while they were 
part of a federation of semi-nomadic people, the Onogurs ("The Ten Arrows" or ten tribes); it 
is believed that the name "Hungarian" is a Slavonic version of that word; 19 while "Magyar" is 
the name by which they have called themselves from time immemorial. 

From about the middle of the seventh to the end of the ninth centuries they were, as 
already said, subjects of the Khazar Empire. It is a remarkable fact that during this whole 
period, while other tribes were engaged in a murderous game of musical chairs, we have no 
record of a single armed conflict between Khazars and Magyars, whereas each of the two was 
involved at one time or another in wars with their immediate or distant neighbours: Volga 
Bulgars, Danube Bulgars, Ghuzz, Pechenegs, and so on - in addition to the Arabs and the 
Rus. Paraphrasing the Russian Chronicle and Arab sources, Toynbee writes that throughout 
this period the Magyars "took tribute", on the Khazars' behalf, from the Slav and Finn peoples 
in the Black Earth Zone to the north of the Magyars' own domain of the Steppe, and in the for- 
est zone to the north of that. The evidence for the use of the name Magyar by this date is its 
survival in a number of place-names in this region of northerly Russia. These place-names 
presumably mark the sites of former Magyar garrisons and outposts." 20 Thus the Magyars 
dominated their Slavonic neighbours, and Toynbee concludes that in levying tribute, "the 
Khazars were using the Magyars as their agents, though no doubt the Magyars made this 
agency profitable for themselves as well". 21 

The arrival of the Rus radically changed this profitable state of affairs. At about the time 
when Sarkel was built, there was a conspicuous movement of the Magyars across the Don to 
its west bank. From about 830 onward, the bulk of the nation was re-settled in the region 
between the Don and the Dnieper, later to be named Lebedia. The reason for this move has 
been much debated among historians; Toynbee's explanation is both the most recent and the 
most plausible: 

We may . . . infer that the Magyars were in occupation of the Steppe to the 
west of the Don by permission of their Khazar suzerains . . . Since the Steppe- 
country had previously belonged to the Khazars, and since the Magyars were 
the Khazars' subordinate allies, we may conclude that the Magyars had not 
established themselves in this Khazar territory against the Khazars' will . . . 
Indeed we may conclude that the Khazars had not merely permitted the 
Magyars to establish themselves to the west of the Don, but had actually 
planted them there to serve the Khazars' own purposes. The re-location of sub- 
ject peoples for strategic reasons was a device that had been practised by pre- 
vious nomad empire builders . . . In this new location, the Magyars could help 
the Khazars to check the south-eastward and southward advance of tile Rhos. 
The planting of the Magyars to the west of the Don will have been all of a piece 
with the building of the fortress Sarkel on tile Don's eastern bank. 22 



This arrangement worked well enough for nearly half a century. During this period the rela- 
tion between Magyars and Khazars became even closer, culminating in two events which 
left lasting marks on the Hungarian nation. First, the Khazars gave them a king, who 
founded the first Magyar dynasty; and, second, several Khazar tribes joined the Magyars and 
profoundly transformed their ethnic character. 

The first episode is described by Constantine in De Administrando (circa 950), and is con- 
firmed by the fact that the names he mentions appear independently in the first Hungarian 
Chronicle (eleventh century). Constantine tells us that before the Khazars intervened in the 
internal affairs of the Magyar tribes, these had no paramount king, only tribal chieftains; the 
most prominent of these was called Lebedias (after whom Lebedia was later named): 

And the Magyars consisted of seven hordes, but at that time they had no ruler, 
either native or foreign, but there were certain chieftains among them, of which 
the principal chieftain was the aforementioned Lebedias . . . And the Kagan, 
the ruler of Khazaria, on account of their [the Magyars'] valour and military 
assistance, gave their first chieftain, the man called Lebedias, a noble Khazar 
lady as wife, that he might beget children of her; but Lebedias, by some 
chance, had no family by that Khazar woman. 

Another dynastic alliance which had misfired. But the Kagan was determined to strengthen 
the ties which bound Lebedias and his tribes to the Khazar kingdom: 

After a little time had passed, the Kagan, the ruler of Khazaria, told the 
Magyars ... to send to him their first chieftain. So Lebedias, coming before 
the Kagan of Khazaria, asked him for the reason why he had sent for him. And 
the Kagan said to him: We have sent for you for this reason: that, since you are 
well-born and wise and brave and the first of the Magyars, we may promote you 
to be the ruler of your race, and that you may be subject to our Laws and 

But Lebedias appears to have been a proud man; he declined, with appropriate expressions 
of gratitude, the offer to become a puppet king, and proposed instead that the honour should 
be bestowed on a fellow chieftain called Almus, or on Almus's son, Arpad. So the Kagan, 
"pleased at this speech", sent Lebedias with a suitable escort back to his people; and they 
chose Arpad to be their king. The ceremony of Arpad's installation took place "after the cus- 
tom and usage of the Khazars, raising him on theirshields. But before this Arpad the Magyars 
never had any other ruler; wherefore the ruler of Hungary is drawn from his race up to this 

"This day" in which Constantine wrote was circa 950, that is, a century after the event. 
Arpad in fact led his Magyars in the conquest of Hungary; his dynasty reigned till 1301, and 
his name is one of the first that Hungarian schoolboys learn. The Khazars had their fingers in 
many historic pies. 


The second episode seems to have had an even more profound influence on the 
Hungarian national character. At some unspecified date, Constantine tells us, 23 there 
was a rebellion (apostasia) of part of the Khazar nation against their rulers. The insur- 
gents consisted of three tribes, "which were called Kavars [or Kabars], and which were of the 
Khazars' own race. The Government prevailed; some of the rebels were slaughtered and 
some fled the country and settled with the Magyars, and they made friends with one another. 
They also taught the tongue of the Khazars to the Magyars, and up to this day they speak the 
same dialect, but they also speak the other language of the Magyars. And because they 
proved themselves more efficient in wars and the most manly of the eight tribes [i.e., the 
seven original Magyar tribes plus the Kabars], and leaders in war, they were elected to be the 
first horde, and there is one leader among them, that is in the [originally] three hordes of the 
Kavars, who exists to this day." 

To dot his i's, Constantine starts his next chapter with a list "of the hordes of Kavars and 
Magyars. First is that which broke off from the Khazars, this above-mentioned horde of the 
Kavars.", etc. 24 The horde or tribe which actually calls itself "Magyar" comes only third. 

It looks as if the Magyars had received - metaphorically and perhaps literally - a blood 
transfusion from the Khazars. It affected them in several ways. First of all we learn, to our sur- 
prise, that at least till the middle of the tenth century both the Magyar and Khazar languages 
were spoken in Hungary. Several modern authorities have commented on this singular fact. 
Thus Bury wrote: "The result of this double tongue is the mixed character of the modern 
Hungarian language, which has supplied specious argument for the two opposite opinions as 
to the ethnical affinities of the Magyars." 25 Toynbee 26 remarks that though the Hungarians 
have ceased to be bilingual long ago, they were so at the beginnings of their state, as testi- 
fied by some two hundred loan-words from the old Chuvash dialect of Turkish which the 
Khazars spoke (see above, Chapter I, 3). 

The Magyars, like the Rus, also adopted a modified form of the Khazar double-kingship. 


Thus Gardezi: "... Their leader rides out with 20000 horsemen; they call him Kanda 
[Hungarian: Kende] and this is the title of their greater king, but the title of the person who 
effectively rules them is Jula. And the Magyars do whatever their Jula commands." There is 
reason to believe that the first J ulas of Hungary were Kabars. 27 

There is also some evidence to indicate that among the dissident Kabar tribes, who de 
facto took over the leadership of the Magyar tribes, there were Jews, or adherents of "a 
judaizing religion". 28 It seems quite possible - as Artamonov and Bartha have suggested 29 - 
that the Kabar apostasia was somehow connected with, or a reaction against, the religious 
reforms initiated by King Obadiah. Rabbinical law, strict dietary rules, Talmudic casuistry 
might have gone very much against the grain of these steppe-warriors in shining armour. If 
they professed "a judaizing religion", it must have been closer to the faith of the ancient 
desert-Hebrews than to rabbinical orthodoxy. They may even have been followers of the fun- 
damentalist sect of Karaites, and hence considered heretics. But this is pure speculation. 


The close cooperation between Khazars and Magyars came to an end when the latter, AD 
896, said farewell to the Eurasian steppes, crossed the Carpathian mountain range, and 
conquered the territory which was to become their lasting habitat. The circumstances of 
this migration are again controversial, but one can at least grasp its broad outlines. 

During the closing decades of the ninth century yet another uncouth player joined the 
nomad game of musical chairs: the pechenegs. [Or "Paccinaks", or in Hungarian, "Bescnyk".] 
What little we know about this Turkish tribe is summed up in Constantine's description of 
them as an insatiably greedy lot of Barbarians who for good money can be bought to fight 
other Barbarians and the Rus. They lived between the Volga and the Ural rivers under Khazar 
suzerainty; according to Ibn Rusta, 30 the Khazars "raided them every year" to collect the trib- 
ute due to them. 

Toward the end of the ninth century a catastrophe (of a nature by no means unusual) befell 
the Pechenegs: they were evicted from their country by their eastern neighbours. These neigh- 
bours were none other than the Ghuzz (or Oguz) whom Ibn Fadlan so much disliked - one of 
the inexhaustible number of Turkish tribes which from time to time cut loose from their 
Central-Asiatic moorings and drifted west. The displaced Pechenegs tried to settle in 
Khazaria, but the Khazars beat them off. [This seems to be the plausible interpretation of 
Constantine's statement that "the Ghuzz and the Khazars made war on the Pecheisegs". [Cf. 
Bury, p. 424.]] The Pechenegs continued their westward trek, crossed the Don and invaded 
the territory of the Magyars. The Magyars in turn were forced to fall back further west into the 
region between the Dnieper and the Sereth rivers. They called this region Etel-Kz, "the land 
between the rivers". They seem to have settled there in 889; but in 896 the Pechenegs 
struck again, allied to the Danube Bulgars, whereupon the Magyars withdrew into present-day 

This, in rough outline, is the story of the Magyars' exit from the eastern steppes, and the 
end of the Magyar-Khazar connection. The details are contested; some historians 31 maintain, 
with a certain passion, that the Magyars suffered only one defeat, not two, at the hands of 
the Pechenegs, and that Etel-Kz was just another name for Lebedia, but we can leave these 
quibbles to the specialists. More intriguing is the apparent contradiction between the image 
of the Magyars as mighty warriors, and their inglorious retreat from successive habitats. Thus 
we learn from the Chronicle of Hinkmar of Rheims 32 that in 862 they raided the Fast Frankish 
Empire - the first of the savage incursions which were to terrorize Europe during the next cen- 
tury. We also hear of a fearful encounter which St Cyril, the Apostle of the Slavs, had with a 
Magyar horde in 860, on his way to Khazaria. He was saying his prayers when they rushed at 
him luporum more ululantes - "howling in the manner of wolves". His sanctity, however, pro- 
tected him from harm. 33 Another chronicle 34 mentions that the Magyars, and the Kabars, 
came into conflict with the Franks in 881; and Constantine tells us that, some ten years later, 
the Magyars "made war upon Simeon (ruler of the Danube Bulgars) and trounced him 
soundly, and came as far as Preslav, and shut him up in the fortress called Mundraga, and 
returned home." 35 

How is one to reconcile all these valiant deeds with the series of retreats from the Don into 
Hungary, which took place in the same period? It seems that the answer is indicated in the 
passage in Constantine immediately following the one just quoted: 

". . . But after Symeon the Bulgar again made peace with the Emperor of the 
Greeks, and got security, he sent to the Patzinaks, and made an agreement 
with them to make war on and annihilate the Magyars. And when the Magyars 
went away on a campaign, the Patzinaks with Symeon came against the 
Magyars, and completely annihilated their families, and chased away miserably 
the Magyars left to guard their land. But the Magyars returning, and finding 
their country thus desolate and ruined, moved into the country occupied by 
them today [i.e. Hungary]. 

Thus the bulk of the army was "away on a campaign" when their land and families were 
attacked; and to judge by the chronicles mentioned above, they were "away" raiding distant 
countries quite frequently, leaving their homes with little protection. They could afford to 
indulge in this risky habit as long as they had only their Khazar overlords and the peaceful 


Slavonic tribes as their immediate neighbours. But with the advent of the land-hungry 
Pechenegs the situation changed. The disaster described by Constantine may have been only 
the last of a series of similar incidents. But it may have decided them to seek a new and 
safer home beyond the mountains, in a country which they already knew from at least two pre- 
vious forays. 

There is another consideration which speaks in favour of this hypothesis. The Magyars 
seem to have acquired the raiding habit only in the second half of the ninth century - about 
the time when they received that critical blood-transfusion from the Khazars. It may have 
proved a mixed blessing. The Kabars, who were "more efficient in war and more manly", 
became, as we saw, the leading tribe, and infused their hosts with the spirit of adventure, 
which was soon to turn them into the scourge of Europe, as the Huns had earlier been. They 
also taught the Magyars "those very peculiar and characteristic tactics employed since time 
immemorial by every Turkish nation - Huns, Avars, Turks, Pechenegs, Kumans - and by no 
other . . . light cavalry using the old devices of simulated flight, of shooting while fleeing, of 
sudden charges with fearful, wolf-like howling." 36 

These methods proved murderously effective during the ninth and tenth centuries when 
Hungarian raiders invaded Germany, the Balkans, Italy and even France - but they did not cut 
much ice against the Pechenegs, who used the same tactics, and could howl just as spine- 

Thus indirectly, by the devious logic of history, the Khazars were instrumental in the estab- 
lishment of the Hungarian state, whereas the Khazars themselves vanished into the mist. 
Macartney, pursuing a similar line of thought, went even further in emphasizing the decisive 
role played by the Kabar transfusion: 

The bulk of the Magyar nation, the true Finno-Ugrians, comparatively (although 
not very) pacific and sedentary agriculturalists, made their homes in the undu- 
lating country . . . west of the Danube. The plain of the Alfld was occupied by 
the nomadic race of Kabars, true Turks, herdsmen, horsemen and fighters, the 
driving force and the army of the nation. This was the race which in 
Constantine's day still occupied pride of place as the "first of the hordes of the 
Magyars". It was, I believe, chiefly this race of Kabars which raided the Slavs 
and Russians from the steppe; led the campaign against the Bulgars in 895; in 
large part and for more than half a century afterwards, was the terror of half 
Europe. 37 

And yet the Hungarians managed to preserve their ethnic identity. "The brunt of sixty years 
of restless and remorseless warfare fell on the Kabars, whose ranks must have been thinned 
by it to an extraordinary extent. Meanwhile the true Magyars, living in comparative peace, 
increased their numbers." 38 They also succeeded, after the bilingual period, in preserving 
their original Finno-Ugric language in the midst of their German and Slav neighbours - in con- 
trast to the Danube Bulgars, who lost their Original Turkish language, and now speak a 
Slavonic dialect. 

However, the Kabar influence continued to make itself felt in Hungary, and even after they 
became separated by the Carpathian Mountains, the Khazar-Magyar connection was not com- 
pletely severed. According to Vasiliev, 39 in the tenth century the Hungarian Duke Taksony 
invited an unknown number of Khazars to settle in his domains. It is not unlikely that these 
immigrants contained a fair proportion of Khazarian J ews. We may also assume that both the 
Kabars and the later immigrants brought with them some of their famed craftsmen, who 
taught the Hungarians their arts (see above, Chapter 1, 13). 

In the process of taking possession of their new and permanent home, the Magyars had to 
evict its former occupants, Moravians and Danube Bulgars, who moved into the regions where 
they still live. Their other Slavonic neighbours too - the Serbs and Croats - were already more 
or less in situ. Thus, as a result of the chain-reaction which started in the distant Urals - 
Ghuzz chasing Pechenegs, chasing Magyars, chasing Bulgars and Moravians, the map of mod- 
ern Central Europe was beginning to take shape. The shifting kaleidoscope was settling into a 
more or less stable jigsaw. 

PART 10 

We can now resume the story of the Rus ascent to power where we left it - the blood- 
less annexation of Kiev by Rurik's men around AD 862. This is also the approximate 
date when the Magyars were pushed westward by the Pechenegs, thus depriving the 
Khazars of protection on their western flank. It may explain why the Rus could gain control of 
Kiev so easily. 

But the weakening of Khazar military power exposed the Byzantines, too, to attack by the 
Rus. Close to the date when the Rus settled in Kiev, their ships, sailing down the Dnieper, 
crossed the Black Sea and attacked Constantinople. Bury has described the event with much 

In the month of June, AD 860, the Emperor [Michael III], with all his forces, was 
marching against the Saracens. He had probably gone far when he received the 
amazing tidings, which recalled him with all speed to Constantinople. A 
Russian host had sailed across the Euxine [Black Sea] in two hundred boats, 


entered the Bosphorus, plundered the monasteries and suburbs on its banks, 
and overrun the Island of the Princes. The inhabitants of the city were utterly 
demoralized by the sudden horror of the danger and their own impotence. The 
troops (Tagmata) which were usually stationed in the neighbourhood of the city 
were far away with the Emperor . . . and the fleet was absent. Having wrought 
wreck and ruin in the suburbs, the barbarians prepared to attack the city. At 
this crisis . . . the learned Patriarch, Photius, rose to the occasion; he under- 
took the task of restoring the moral courage of his fellow<itizens ... He 
expressed the general feeling when he dwelt on the incongruity that the 
Imperial city, "queen of almost all the world", should be mocked by a band of 
slaves [sic] a mean and barbarous crowd. But the populace was perhaps more 
impressed and consoled when he resorted to the ecclesiastical magic which 
had been used efficaciously at previous sieges. The precious garment of the 
Virgin Mother was borne in procession round the walls of the city; and it was 
believed that it was dipped in the waters of the sea for the purpose of raising a 
storm of wind. No storm arose, but soon afterwards the Russians began to 
retreat, and perhaps there were not many among the joyful citizens who did not 
impute their relief to the direct intervention of the queen of heaven. 40 

We may add, for the sake of piquantry, that the "learned Patriarch", Photius, whose elo- 
quence saved the Imperial city, was none other than "Khazar face" who had sent St Cyril on 
his proselytizing mission. As for the Rus retreat, it was caused by the hurried return of the 
Greek army and fleet; but "Khazar face" had saved morale among the populace during the 
agonizing period of waiting. 

Toynbee too has interesting comments to make on this episode. In 860, he writes, the 
Russians "perhaps came nearer to capturing Constantinople than so far they have ever come 
since then". 41 And he also shares the view expressed by several Russian historians, that the 
attack by the eastern Northmen's Dnieper flotilla across the Black Sea was coordinated with 
the simultaneous attack of a western Viking fleet, approaching Constantinople across the 
Mediterranean and the Dardanelles: 

Vasiliev and Paszkievicz and Vernadsky are inclined to believe that the two 
naval expeditions that thus converged on the Sea of Marmara were not only 
simultaneous but were concerted, and they even make a guess at the identity 
of the master mind that, in their view, worked out this strategic plan on the 
grand scale. They suggest that Rurik of Novgorod was the same person as 
Rorik of Jutland. 42 

This makes one appreciate the stature of the adversary with whom the Khazars had to con- 
tend. Nor was Byzantine diplomacy slow in appreciating it - and to play the double game 
which the situation seemed to demand, alternating between war, when it could not be 
avoided, and appeasement in the pious hope that the Russians would eventually be con- 
verted to Christianity and brought into the flock of the Eastern Patriarchate. As for the 
Khazars, they were an important asset for the time being, and would be sold out on the first 
decent- or indecent- opportunity that offered itself 

PART 11 

For the next two hundred years Byzantine-Russian relations alternated between armed con- 
flict and treaties of friendship. Wars were waged in 860 (siege of Constantinople), 907, 
941, 944, 969-71; and treaties concluded in 838-9, 861,911,945, 957, 971. About the 
contents of these more or less secret agreements we know little, but even what we know 
shows the bewildering complexity of the game. A few years after the siege of Constantinople 
the Patriarch Photius (still the same) reports that the Rus sent ambassadors to 
Constantinople and - according to the Byzantine formula for pressurized proselytizing - 
"besought the Emperor for Christian baptism". As Bury comments: 

"We cannot say which, or how many, of the Russian settlements were repre- 
sented by this embassy, but the object must have been to offer amends for the 
recent raid, perhaps to procure the deliverance of prisoners. It is certain that 
some of the Russians agreed to adopt Christianity. . . but the seed did not fall 
on very fertile ground. For upwards of a hundred years we hear no more of the 
Christianity of the Russians. The treaty however, which was concluded between 
AD 860 and 866, led probably to other consequences." 43 

Among these consequences was the recruiting of Scandinavian sailors into the Byzantine 
fleet - by 902 there were seven hundred of them. Another development was the famous 
"Varangian Guard", an lite corps of Rus and other nordic mercenaries, including even 
Englishmen. In the treaties of 945 and 971 the Russian rulers of the Principality of Kiev 
undertook to supply the Byzantine Emperor with troops on request. 44 In Constantine potphyro- 
genitus' day, i.e., the middle of the tenth century, Rus fleets on the Bosphorus were a cus- 
tomary sight; they no longer caine to lay siege on Constantinople but to sell their wares. Trade 
was meticulously well regulated (except when armed clashes intervened): according to the 


Russian Chronicle, it was agreed in the treaties of 907 and 911 that the Rus visitors should 
enter Constantinople through one city gate only, and not more thin fifty at a time, escorted by 
officials; that they were to receive during their stay in the city as much grain as they required 
and also up to Six months' supply of other provisions, in monthly deliveries, including bread, 
wine, meat, fish, fruit and bathing facilities (if required). To make sure that all transactions 
should be nice and proper, black-market dealings in currency were punished by amputation of 
one hand. Nor were proselytizing efforts neglected, as the ultimate means to achieve peace- 
ful coexistence with the increasingly powerful Russians. 

But it was hard going. According to the Russian Chronicle, when Oleg, Regent of Kiev, con- 
cluded the treaty of 911 with the Byzantines, "the Emperors Leo and Alexander [joint rulers], 
after agreeing upon the tribute and mutually binding themselves by oath, kissed the cross and 
invited Oleg and his men to swear an oath likewise. According to the religion of the Rus, the 
latter swore by their weapons and by their god Perun, as well as by Volos, the god of cattle, 
and thus confirmed the treaty." 45 

Nearly half a century and several battles and treaties later, victory for the Holy Church 
seemed in sight: in 957 Princess Olga of Kiev (widow of Prince Igor) was baptized on the occa- 
sion of her state visit to Constantinople (unless she had already been baptized once before 
her departure - which again is controversial). 

The various banquets and festivities in Olga's honour are described in detail in De 
Caerimonus, though we are not told how the lady reacted to the Disneyland of mechanical toys 
displayed in the Imperial throne-room - for instance, to the stuffed lions which emitted a fear- 
ful mechanical roar. (Another distinguished guest, Bishop Liutprand, recorded that he was 
able to keep his sang-froid only because he was forewarned of the surprises in store for visi- 
tors.) The occasion must have been a major headache for the master of ceremonies (which 
was Constantine himself), because not only was Olga a female sovereign, but her retinue, too, 
was female; the male diplomats and advisers, eighty-two of them, "marched self-effacingly in 
the rear of the Russian delegation". 46 [Nine kinsmen of Olga's, twenty diplomats, forty-three 
commercial advisers, one priest, two interpreters, six servants of the diplomats and Olga's 
special interpreter.] 

Just before the banquet there was a small incident, symbolic of the delicate nature of 
Russian-Byzantine relations. When the ladies of the Byzantine court entered, they fell on their 
faces before the Imperial family, as protocol required. Olga remained standing "but it was 
noticed, with satisfaction, that she slightly if perceptibly inclined her head. She was put in her 
place by being seated, as the Muslim state guests had been, at a separate table." 47 

The Russian Chronicle has a different, richly embroidered version of this state visit. When 
the delicate subject of baptism was brought up, Olga told Constantine "that if he desired to 
baptize her, he should perform this function himself; otherwise she was unwilling to accept 
baptism". The Emperor concurred, and asked the Patriarch to instruct her in the faith. 

The Patriarch instructed her in prayer and fasting, in almsgiving and in the 
maintenance of chastity. She bowed her head, and like a sponge absorbing 
water, she eagerly drank in his teachings . . . 

After her baptism, the Emperor summoned Olga and made known to her that 
he wished her to become his wife. But she replied, "How can you marry me, 
after yourself baptizing me and calling me your daughter? For among Christians 
that is unlawful, as you yourself must know." Then the Emperor said, "Olga, you 
have outwitted me." 48 

When she got back to Kiev, Constantine "sent a message to her, saying, 'Inasmuch as I 
bestowed many gifts upon you, you promised me that on your return to Ros you would send 
me many presents of slaves, wax and furs, and despatch soldiery to aid me.' Olga made 
answer to the envoys that if the Emperor would spend as long a time with her in the Pochayna 
as she had remained on the Bosphorus, she would grant his request. With these words, she 
dismissed the envoys." 49 

This Olga-Helga must have been a formidable Scandinavian Amazon. She was, as already 
mentioned, the widow of Prince Igor, supposedly the son of Rurik, whom the Russian 
Chronicle describes as a greedy, foolish and sadistic ruler. In 941 he had attacked the 
Byzantines with a large fleet, and "of the people they captured, some they butchered, others 
they set up as targets and shot at, some they seized upon, and after binding their hands 
behind their backs, they drove iron nails through their heads. Many sacred churches they gave 
to the flames." 50 In the end they were defeated by the Byzantine fleet, spouting Greek fire 
through tubes mounted in the prows of their ships. "Upon seeing the flames, the Russians 
cast themselves into the sea-water, but the survivors returned home [where] they related that 
the Greeks had in their possession the lightning from heaven, and had set them on fire by 
pouring it forth, so that the Russes could not conquer them." [Toynbee does not hesitate to 
call this famous secret weapon of the Greeks "napalm". It was a chemical of unknown com- 
position, perhaps a distilled petroleum fraction, which ignited spontaneously on contact with 
water, and could not be put out by water.] This episode was followed by another treaty of 
friendship four years later. As a predominantly maritime nation, the Rus were even more 
impressed by the Greek fire than others who had attacked Byzantium, and the "lightning from 
heaven" was a strong argument in favour of the Greek Church. Yet they were still not ready for 



When Igor was killed in 945 by the Derevlians, a Slavonic people upon which he had 
imposed an exorbitant tribute, the widowed Olga became Regent of Kiev. She started her rule 
by taking fourfold revenge on the Derevlians: first, a Derevlian peace mission was buried 
alive; then a delegation of notables was locked in a bath-house and burned alive; this was fol- 
lowed by another massacre, and lastly the main town of the Derevlians was burnt down. 
Olga's bloodlust seemed truly insatiable until her baptism. From that day onward, the 
Chronicle informs us, she became "the precursor of Christian Russia, even as daybreak pre- 
cedes the sun, and as the dawn precedes the day. For she shone like the moon by night, and 
she was radiant among the infidels like a pearl in the mire." In due course she was canonized 
as the first Russian saint of the Orthodox Church. 

PART 12 

Yet in spite of the great to-do about Olga's baptism and her state visit to Constantine, 
this was not the last word in the stormy dialogue between the Greek Church and the 
Russians. For Olga's son, Svyatoslav, reverted to paganism, refused to listen to his 
mother's entreaties, "collected a numerous and valiant army and, stepping light like a leop- 
ard, undertook many campaigns" 51 among them a war against the Khazars and another 
against the Byzantines. It was only in 988, in the reign of his son, St Vladimir, that the ruling 
dynasty of the Russians definitely adopted the faith of the Greek Orthodox Church - about the 
same time as Hungarians, Poles, and Scandinavians, including the distant Icelanders, 
became converted to the Latin Church of Rome. The broad outlines of the lasting religious 
divisions of the world were beginning to take shape; and in this process the Jewish Khazars 
were becoming an anachronism. The growing rapprochement between Constantinople and 
Kiev, in spite of its ups and downs, made the importance of Itil gradually dwindle; and the 
presence of the Khazars athwart Rus-Byzantine trade-routes, levying their 10 per cent tax on 
the increasing flow of goods, became an irritant both to the Byzantine treasury and the 
Russian warrior merchants. 

Symptomatic of the changing Byzantine attitude to their former allies was the surrender of 
Cherson to the Russians. For several centuries Byzantines and Khazars had been bickering 
and occasionally skirmishing, for possession of that important Crimean port; but when 
Vladimir occupied Cherson in 987, the Byzantines did not even protest; for, as Bury put it, 
"the sacrifice was not too dear a price for perpetual peace and friendship with the Russian 
state, then becoming a great power". 52 

The sacrifice of Cherson may have been justified; but the sacrifice of the Khazar alliance 
turned out to be, in the long run, a short-sighted policy. 



1 In his article "Khazars" in the Enc. Brit. 1973 edition. 

2 Op. cit, p. 177. 

3 Bar Hebraeus and al-Manbiji, quoted by Dunlop, p. 181. 

4 Marquart (pp. 5, 416), Dunlop (p. 42n) and Bury (p. 408) all give slightly different 

5 Bartha, p. 27f 

6 Op. cit, p. 547 

7 Op. cit, p. 446n, 

8 Toynbee, p. 446; Bury, p. 422n 

9 Gardezi (circa. 1050), paraphrasing in earlier report by Ibn Rusta (circa 905), quoted 
by Macartney, C. A. (1930), p. 20. 

10 The Penquin Atlas of Mediaeval History, 1961, p. 58. 

11 Toynbee, p. 446. 

12 Zeki Validi, p, 85f. 

13 Ibn Rusta, quoted by Macartney, p, 214. 

14 Loc. cit. 

15 Ibn Rusta, quoted by Macartney, p, 215. 

16 Ibid., pp 214-15. 

17 Op. cit, p. i. 

18 Ibid., p. v. 

19 Toynbee, p. 419; Macartney, p. 176. 

20 Toynbee, p. 418. 

21 Ibid., p. 454. 

22 Loc. cit. 

23 DeAdministrando, ch. 3940. 

24 Toynbee, p, 426. 

25 Op. cit, p. 4.26. 

26 Op. cit, p. 427. 

27 Macartney, pp. 1 2 7 ff . 

28 Baron, Vol. Ill, pp. 211f., 332. 

29 Bartha, pp. 99, 113. 

30 Quoted by Dunlop (1954), p. 105. 

31 Cf, Bury, p. 424. 

32 Macartney, Guillemain. 

33 Quoted by Macartney, p. 71. 

34 Loc. cit. 

35 The Annals of Admont, quoted by Macartney, p. 76. 

36 DeAdministrando, ch. 40. 

37 Macartney, p. 123. 

38 Ibid., p. 122. 

39 Ibid., p. 123. 

40 Quoted by Dunlop (1954), p. 262. 

41 Bury, p, 419f. 

42 Op. Cit, p. 448. 

43 Ibid., p. 447. 

44 Op. Cit, p. 422. 

45 Toynbee., p. 448. 

46 Russian Chronicle, p. 65. 

47 Toynbee, p. 504. 

48 Loc. cit. 

49 Russian Chronicle, p. 82. 

50 Ibid., p. 83. 

51 Ibid., p. 72. 

52 Ibid., p. 84. 

53 Bury, p. 418. 


The Thirteenth Tribe 

Arthur Koestler 



IN discussing Russian-Byzantine relations in the ninth and tenth centuries, I have been able 
to quote at length from two detailed sources; Constantine's De Administrando and the 
Primary Russian Chronicle. But on the Russian-Khazar confrontation during the same period 
- to which we now turn - we have no comparable source material; the archives of Itil, if they 
ever existed, have gone with the wind, and for the history of the last hundred years of the 
Khazar Empire we must again fall back on the disjointed, casual hints found in various Arab 
chronicles and geographies. 

The period in question extends from circa 862 -the Russian occupation of Kiev -to circa 
965 -the destruction of Itil by Svyatoslav. After the loss of Kiev and the retreat of the Magyars 
into Hungary, the former western dependencies of the Khazar Empire (except for parts of the 
Crimea) were no longer under the Kagan's control; and the Prince of Kiev could without hin- 
drance address the Slavonic tribes in the Dnieper basin with the cry, "Pay nothing to the 
Khazars!" 1 

The Khazars may have been willing to acquiesce in the loss of their hegemony in the west, 
but at the same time there was also a growing encroachment by the Rus on the east, down 
the Volga and into the regions around the Caspian. These Muslim lands bordering on the 
southern half of the "Khazar Sea" -Azerbaijan, J ilan, 

Shirwan, Tabaristan, Jurjan -were tempting targets for the Viking fleets, both as objects of 
plunder and as trading posts for commerce with the Muslim Caliphate. But the approaches to 
the Caspian, past Itil through the Volga delta, were controlled by the Khazars - as the 
approaches to the Black Sea had been while they were still holding Kiev. And "control" meant 
that the Rus had to solicit permission for each flotilla to pass, and pay the 10 per cent cus- 
toms due - a double insult to pride and pocket. 

For some time there was a precarious modus vivendi. The Rus flotillas paid their due, sailed 
into the Khazar Sea and traded with the people around it. But trade, as we saw, frequently 
became a synonym for plunder. Some time between 864 and 8842 a Rus expedition attacked 
the port of Abaskun in Tabaristan. They were defeated, but in 910 they returned, plundered 
the city and countryside and carried off a number of Muslim prisoners to be sold as slaves. To 
the Khazars this must have been a grave embarrassment, because of their friendly relations 
with the Caliphate, and also because of the crack regiment of Muslim mercenaries in their 
standing army. Three years later -AD 913 -matters came to a head in an armed confrontation 
which ended in a bloodbath. 

This major incident - already mentioned briefly (Chapter III, 3) has been described in detail 
by Masudi, while the Russian Chronicle passes it over in silence. Masudi tells us that "some 
time after the year of the Hegira 300 [AD 912-913] a Rus fleet of 500 ships, each manned by 
100 persons" was approaching Khazar territory: 

When the ships of the Rus came to the Khazars posted at the mouth of the 
strait . . . they sent a letter to the Khazar king, requesting to be allowed to pass 
through his country and descend his river, and so enter the sea of the Khazars 
. . . on condition that they should give him half of what they might take in booty 
from the peoples of the sea<oast. He granted them permission and they . . . 
descended the river to the city of Itil and passing through, came out on the 
estuary of the river, where it joins the Khazar Sea. From the estuary to the city 
of Itil the river is very large and its waters abundant. The ships of the Rus 
spread throughout the sea. Their raiding parties were directed against J ilan, 
Jurjan, Tabaristan, Abaskun on the coast of Jurjan, the naphtha country [Baku] 
and the region of Azerbaijan.... The Rus shed blood, destroyed the women and 
children, took booty and raided and burned in all directions . . . 2a 

They even sacked the city of Ardabil - at three days' journey inland. When the people recov- 
ered from the shock and took to arms, the Rus, according to their classic strategy, withdrew 


from the coast to the islands near Baku. The natives, using small boats and merchant ves- 
sels, tried to dislodge them. 

But the Rus turned on them and thousands of the Muslims were killed or 
drowned. The Rus continued many months in this sea . . . When they had col- 
lected enough booty and were tired of what they were about, they started for 
the mouth of the Khazar river, informing the king of the Khazars, and conveying 
to him rich booty, according to the conditions which he had fixed with them . . . 
The Arsiyah [the Muslim mercenaries in the Khazar army] and other Muslims 
who lived in Khazaria learned of the situation of the Rus, and said to the king of 
the Khazars: leave us to deal with these people. They have raided the lands of 
the Muslims, our brothers, and have shed blood and enslaved women and chil- 
dren. And he could not gainsay them. So he sent for the Rus, informing them of 
the determination of the Muslims to fight them. 

The Muslims [of Khazaria] assembled and went forth to find the Rus, proceed- 
ing downstream [on land, from Itil to the Volga estuary]. When the two armies 
came within sight of each other, the Rus disembarked and drew up in order of 
battle against the Muslims, with whom were a number of Christians living in Itil, 
so that they were about 15000 men, with horses and equipment. The fighting 
continued for three days. God helped the Muslims against them. The Rus were 
put to the sword. Some were killed and others were drowned, of those slain by 
the Muslims on the banks of the Khazar river there were counted about 30000 

Five thousand of the Rus escaped, but these too were killed, by the Burtas and the Bulgars. 

This is Masudi's account of this disastrous Rus incursion into the Caspian in 912-13. It is, 
of course, biased. The Khazar ruler comes out of it as a double-crossing rascal who acts, first 
as a passive accomplice of the Rus marauders, then authorizes the attack on them, but 
simultaneously informs them of the ambush prepared by "the Muslims" under his own com- 
mand. Even of the Bulgars, Masudi says "they are Muslims" -although Ibn Fadlan, visiting the 
Bulgars ten years later, describes them as still far from being converted. But though coloured 
by religious prejudice, Masudi's account provides a glimpse of the dilemma or several dilem- 
mas - confronting the Khazar leadership. They may not have been unduly worried about the 
misfortunes suffered by the people on the Caspian shores; it was not a sentimental age. But 
what if the predatory Rus, after gaining control of Kiev and the Dnieper, were to establish a 
foothold on the Volga? Moreover, another Rus raid into the Caspian might bring down the 
wrath of the Caliphate - not on the Rus themselves, who were beyond its reach, but on the 
innocent - well, nearly innocent - Khazars. 

Relations with the Caliphate were peaceful, yet nevertheless precarious, as an incident 
reported by Ibn Fadlan indicates. The Rus raid described by Masudi took place in 912-13; Ibn 
Fadlan's mission to Bulgar in 921-2. His account of the incident in question is as follows: 3 

The Muslims in this city [Itil] have a cathedral mosque where they pray and 
attend on Fridays. It has a high minaret and several muezzins [criers who call 
for prayer from the minaret]. When the king of the Khazars was informed in a.H. 
310 [AD 922] that the Muslims had destroyed the synagogue which was in Dar 
al-Babunaj [unidentified place in Muslim territory], he gave orders to destroy 
the minaret, and he killed the muezzins. And he said: "If I had not feared that 
not a synagogue would be left standing in the lands of Islam, but would be 
destroyed, I would have destroyed the mosque too." 

The episode testifies to a nice feeling for the strategy of mutual deterrence and the dan- 
gers of escalation. It also shows once more that the Khazar rulers felt emotionally committed 
to the fate of J ews in other parts of the world. 


Masudi's account of the 912-13 Rus incursion into the Caspian ends with the words: 
"There has been no repetition on the part of the Rus of what we have described since 
that year." As coincidences go, Masudi wrote this in the same year -943 -in which the 
Rus repeated their incursion into the Caspian with an even greater fleet; but Masudi could not 
have known this. For thirty years, after the disaster of 913, they had lain off that part of the 
world; now they felt evidently strong enough to try again; and it is perhaps significant that 
their attempt coincided, within a year or two, with their expedition against the Byzantines, 
under the swashbuckling Igor, which perished under the Greek fire. 

In the course of this new invasion, the Rus gained a foothold in the Caspian region in the 
city of Bardha, and were able to hold it for a whole year. In the end pestilence broke out 
among the Rus, and the Azerbaijanis were able to put the survivors to flight. This time the 
Arab sources do not mention any Khazar share in the plunder- nor in the fighting. But Joseph 
does in his letter to Hasdai, written some years later: 


"/ guard the mouth of the river and do not permit the Rus who come in their 
ships to invade the land of the Arabs . . . I fight heavy wars with them." [In the 
so called "long version" of the same letter (see Appendix III), there is another 
sentence which may or may not have been added by a copyist: "If I allowed 
them for one hour, they would destroy all the country of the Arabs as far as 
Baghdad ..." Since the Rus sat on the Caspian not for an hour, but for a year, 
the boast sounds rather hollow - though a little less so if we take it to refer not 
to the past but to the future.] 

Whether or not on this particular occasion the Khazar army participated in the fighting, the 
fact remains that a few years later they decided to deny the Russians access to the "Khazar 
Sea" and that from 943 onward we hear no more of Rus incursions into the Caspian. 

This momentous decision, in all likelihood motivated by internal pressures of the Muslim 
community in their midst, involved the Khazars in "heavy wars" with the Rus. Of these, how- 
ever, we have no records beyond the statement in Joseph's letter. They may have been more 
in the nature of skirmishes except for the one major campaign of AD 965, mentioned in the 
Old Russian Chronicle, which led to the breaking up of the Khazar Empire. 


The leader of the campaign was Prince Svyatoslav of Kiev, son of Igor and Olga. We have 
already heard that he was "stepping light as a leopard" and that he "undertook many 
campaigns" - in fact he spent most of his reign campaigning. In spite of the constant 
entreaties of his mother, he refused to be baptized, "because it would make him the laughing 
stock of his subjects". The Russian Chronicle also tells us that "on his expeditions he carried 
neither waggons nor cooking utensils, and boiled no meat, but cut off small strips of horse- 
flesh, game or beef, and ate it after roasting it on the coals. Nor did he have a tent, but he 
spread out a horse-blanket under him, and set his saddle under his head; and all his retinue 
did likewise. "4 When he attacked the enemy, he scorned doing it by stealth, but instead sent 
messengers ahead announcing: "I am coming upon you." 

To the campaign against the Khazars, the Chronicler devotes only a few lines, in the laconic 
tone which he usually adopts in reporting on armed conflicts: 

Svyatoslav went to the Oka and the Volga, and on coming in contact with the 
Vyatichians [a Slavonic tribe inhabiting the region south of modern Moscow], he 
inquired of them to whom they paid tribute. They made ans wer that they paid a 
silver piece per ploughshare to the Khazars. When they [the Khazars] heard of 
his approach, they went out to meet him with their Prince, the Kagan, and the 
armies came to blows. When the battle thus took place, Svyatoslav defeated 
the Khazars and took their city of Biela Viezha. 4a 

Now Biela Viezha - the White Castle - was the Slavonic name for Sarkel, the famed Khazar 
fortress on the Don; but it should be noted that the destruction of Itil, the capital, is nowhere 
mentioned in the Russian Chronicle - a point to which we shall return. .The Chronicle goes on 
to relate that Svyatoslav "also conquered the Yasians and the Karugians" [Ossetians and 
Chirkassians], defeated the Danube Bulgars, was defeated by the Byzantines, and on his way 
back to Kiev was murdered by a horde of Pechenegs. "They cut off his head, and made a cup 
out of his skull, overlayed it with gold, and drank from it." 5 

Several historians have regarded the victory of Svyatoslav as the end of Khazaria - which, as 
will be seen, is demonstrably wrong. The destruction of Sarkel in 965 signalled the end of the 
Khazar Empire, not of the Khazar state - as 1918 signalled the end of the Austro-Hungarian 
Empire, but not of Austria as a nation. Khazar control of the far-flung Slavonic tribes - which, 
as we have seen, stretched to the vicinity of Moscow - had now come to a definite end; but 
the Khazar heartland between Caucasus, Don and Volga remained intact. The approaches to 
the Caspian Sea remained closed to the Rus, and we hear of no further attempt on their part 
to force their way to it. As Toynbee pointedly remarks: 

"The Rhus succeeded in destroying the Khazar Steppe-empire, but the only 
Khazar territory that they acquired was Tmutorakan on the Tanian peninsula 
[facing the Crimea], and this gain was ephemeral . . . It was not till half-way 
through the sixteenth century that the Muscovites made a permanent con- 
quest, for Russia, of the river Volga ... to the river's dbouchure into the Caspian 
Sea." 6 


After the death of Svyatoslav, civil war broke out between his sons, out of which the 
youngest, Vladimir, emerged victorious. He too started life as a pagan, like his father, 
and he too, like his grandmother Olga, ended up as a repentant sinner, accepted bap- 
tism and was eventually canonized. Yet in his youth St Vladimir seemed to have followed St 
Augustine's motto: Lord give me chastity, but not yet. The Russian Chronicle is rather severe 
about this: 


Wow Vladimir was overcome by lust for women. He had three hundred concu- 
bines at Vyshgorod, three hundred at Belgorod, and two hundred at Berestovo. 
He was insatiable in vice. He even seduced married women and violated young 
girls, for he was a libertine like Solomon. For it is said that Solomon had seven 
hundred wives and three hundred concubines. He was wise, yet in the end he 
came to ruin. But Vladimir, though at first deluded, eventually found salvation. 
Great is the Lord, and great his power and of his wisdom there is no end. 


Olga's baptism, around 957 did not cut much ice, even with her own son. Vladimir's bap- 
tism, AD 989, was a momentous event which had a lasting influence on the history of the 
world. .It was preceded by a series of diplomatic manoeuvrings and theological discussions 
with representatives of the four major religions -which provide a kind of mirror image to the 
debates before the Khazar conversion to Judaism. Indeed, the Old Russian Chronicle's 
account of these theological disputes constantly remind one of the Hebrew and Arab 
accounts of King Bulan's erstwhile Brains Trust - only the outcome is different. .This time 
there were four instead of three contestants - as the schism between the Greek and the Latin 
churches was already an accomplished fact in the tenth century (though it became official 
only in the eleventh). .The Russian Chronicle's account of Vladimir's conversion first men- 
tions a victory he achieved against the Volga Bulgars, followed by a treaty of friendship. "The 
Bulgars declared: 'May peace prevail between us till stone floats and straw sinks.'" Vladimir 
returned to Kiev, and the Bulgars sent a Muslim religious mission to convert him. They 
described to him the joys of Paradise where each man will be given seventy fair women. 
Vladimir listened to them "with approval", but when it came to abstinence from pork and 
wine, he drew the line. 

"'Drinking,' said he, 'is the joy of the Russes. We cannot exist without that 
pleasure. '"8. Next came a German delegation of Roman Catholics, adherents of the Latin rite. 
They fared no better when they brought up, as one of the main requirements of their faith, 
fasting according to one's strength. "... Then Vladimir answered: 'Depart hence; our fathers 
accepted no such principle. '"9 .The third mission consisted of Khazar Jews. They came off 
worst. Vladimir asked them why they no longer ruled Jerusalem. "They made answer: 'God 
was angry at our forefathers, and scattered us among the Gentiles on account of our sins.' 
The Prince then demanded: 'How can you hope to teach others while you yourselves are cast 
out and scattered abroad by the hand of God? Do you expect us to accept that fate also?'" 
.The fourth and last missionary is a scholar sent by the Greeks of Byzantium. He starts with a 
blast against the Muslims, who are "accursed above all men, like Sodom and Gomorrah, upon 
which the Lord let fall burning stones, and which he buried and submerged.... For they 
moisten their excrement, and pour the water into their mouths, and annoint their beards with 
it, remembering Mahomet... Vladimir, upon hearing these statements, spat upon the earth, 
saying: 'This is a vile thing. '"10 .The Byzantine scholar then accuses the J ews of having cru- 
cified God, and the Roman Catholics - in much milder terms - of having "modified the Rites". 
After these preliminaries, he launches into a long exposition of the Old and New Testaments, 
starting with the creation of the world. At the end of it, however, Vladimir appears only half 
convinced, for when pressed to be baptized he replies, "I shall wait yet a little longer." He 
then sends his own envoys, "ten good and wise men", to various countries to observe their 
religious practices. In due time this commission of inquiry reports to him that the Byzantine 
Service is "fairer than the ceremonies of other nations, and we knew not whether we were in 
heaven or on earth". 

But Vladimir still hesitates, and the Chronicle continues with a non-sequitur: ."After a year 
had passed, in 988, Vladimir proceeded with an armed force against Cherson, a Greek 
city. .."11 (We remember that control of this important Crimean port had been for a long time 
contested between Byzantines and Khazars.) The valiant Chersonese refused to surrender. 
Vladimir's troops constructed earthworks directed at the city walls, but the Chersonese "dug 
a tunnel under the city wall, stole the heaped-up earth and carried it into the city, where they 
piled it up". Then a traitor shot an arrow into the Rus camp with a message: "There are 
springs behind you to the east, from which water flows in pipes. Dig down and cut them off" 
When Vladimir received this information, he raised his eyes to heaven and vowed that if this 
hope was realized, he would be baptized. 12 .He succeeded in cutting off the city's water sup- 
ply, and Cherson surrendered. Thereupon Vladimir, apparently forgetting his vow, "sent mes- 
sages to the Emperors Basil and Constantine [joint rulers at the time], saying: 'Behold, I have 
captured your glorious city. I have also heard that you have an unwedded sister. Unless you 
give her to me to wife, I shall deal with your own city as I have with Cherson.'" .The Emperors 
replied: "If you are baptized you shall have her to wife, inherit the Kingdom of God, and be our 
companion in the faith." 

And so it came to pass. Vladimir at long last accepted baptism, and married the Byzantine 
Princess Anna. A few years later Greek Christianity became the official religion not only of the 
rulers but of the Russian people, and from 1037 onward the Russian Church was governed by 
the Patriarch of Constantinople. 



t was a momentous triumph of Byzantine diplomacy. Vernadsky calls it "one of those abrupt 
turns which make the study of history so fascinating ... and it is interesting to speculate on 
the possible course of history had the Russian princes ... adopted either of these faiths 
[J udaism or Islam] instead of Christianity... The acceptance of one or another of these faiths 
must necessarily have determined the future cultural and political development of Russia. 
The acceptance of Islam would have drawn Russia into the circle of Arabian culture -that is, 
an Asiatic-Egyptian culture. The acceptance of Roman Christianity from the Germans would 
have made Russia a country of Latin or European culture. The acceptance of either J udaism 
or Orthodox Christianity insured to Russia cultural independence of both Europe and Asia. "13 
.But the Russians needed allies more than they needed independence, and the East Roman 
Empire, however corrupt, was still a more desirable ally in terms of power, culture and trade, 
than the crumbling empire of the Khazars. Nor should one underestimate the role played by 
Byzantine statesmanship in bringing about the decision for which it had worked for more than 
a century. The Russian Chronicle's naive account of Vladimir's game of procrastination gives 
us no insight into the diplomatic manoeuvrings and hard bargaining that must have gone on 
before he accepted baptism - and thereby, in fact, Byzantine tutelage for himself and his peo- 
ple. Cherson was obviously part of the price, and so was the dynastic marriage to Princess 
Anna. But the most important part of the deal was the end of the Byzantine-Khazar alliance 
against the Rus, and its replacement by a Byzantine-Russian alliance against the Khazars. A 
few years later, in 1016, a combined Byzantine-Russian army invaded Khazaria, defeated its 
ruler, and "subdued the country" (see below, IV, 8). 

Yet the cooling off towards the Khazars had already started, as we have seen, in 
Constantine Porphyrogenitus's day, fifty years before Vladimir's conversion. We remember 
Constantine's musings on "how war is to be made on Khazaria and by whom". The passage 
quoted earlier on (II, 7) continues: 

If the ruler of Alania does not keep the peace with the Khazars but considers 
the friendship of the Emperor of the Romans to be of greater value to him, 
then, if the Khazars do not choose to maintain friendship and peace with the 
Emperor, the Alan can do them great harm. He can ambush their roads and 
attack them when they are off their guard on their route to Sarkel and to "the 
nine regions" and to Cherson ... Black Bulgaria [the Volga Bulgars] is also in a 
position to make war on the Khazars. 14 

Toynbee, after quoting this passage, makes the following, rather touching comment: 

If this passage in Constantine Porphyrogenitus's manual for the conduct of the 
East Roman Imperial Government's foreign relations had ever fallen into the 
hands of the Khazar Khaqan and his ministers, they would have been indig- 
nant. They would have pointed out that nowadays Khazaria was one of the 
most pacific states in the world, and that, if she had been more warlike in her 
earlier days, her arms had never been directed against the East Roman 
Empire. The two powers had, in fact, never been at war with each other, while, 
on the other hand, Khazaria had frequently been at war with the East Roman 
Empire's enemies, and this to the Empire's signal advantage. 

Indeed, the Empire may have owed it to the Khazars that she had survived the 
successive onslaughts of the Sasanid Persian Emperor Khusraw II Parviz and 
the Muslim Arabs.... And thereafter the pressure on the Empire of 

the Arabs' onslaught had been relieved by the vigour of the Khazars' offensive- 
defensive resistance to the Arabs' advance towards the Caucasus. The friend- 
ship between Khazaria and the Empire had been symbolized and sealed in two 
marriage-alliances between their respective Imperial families. What, then, had 
been in Constantine's mind when he had been thinking out ways of tormenting 
Khazaria by inducing her neighbours to fall upon her? 15 

The answer to Toynbee's rhetorical question is obviously that the Byzantines were inspired 
by Realpolitik - and that, as already said, theirs was not a sentimental age. Nor is ours. 


K I evertheless, it turned out to be a short-sighted policy. To quote Bury once more: 

The first principle of Imperial policy in this quarter of the world was the mainte- 
nance of peace with the Khazars. This was the immediate consequence of the 
geographical position of the Khazar Empire, lying as it did between the Dnieper 
and the Caucasus. From the seventh century, when Heraclius had sought the 


help of the Khazars against Persia, to the tenth, in which the power of Itil 
declined, this was the constant policy of the Emperors. It was to the advantage 
of the Empire that the Chagan should exercise an effective control over his bar- 
barian neighbours. 16 

This "effective control" was now to be transferred from the Khazar Kagan to the Rus Kagan, 
the Prince of Kiev. But it did not work. The Khazars were a Turkish tribe of the steppes, who 
had been able to cope with wave after wave of Turkish and Arab invaders; they had resisted 
and subdued the Bulgars, Burtas, Pechenegs, Ghuzz, and so on. The Russians and their Slav 
subjects were no match for the nomad warriors of the steppes, their mobile strategy and 
guerilla tactics.* [The most outstanding Russian epic poem of the period, "The Lay of Igor's 
Host", describes one of the disastrous campaigns of the Russians against the Ghuzz.] As a 
result of constant nomad pressure, the centres of Russian power were gradually transferred 
from the southern steppes to the wooded north, to the principalities of Galiczia, Novgorod and 
Moscow. The Byzantines had calculated that Kiev would take over the role of Itil as the 
guardian of Eastern Europe and centre of trade; instead, Kiev went into rapid decline. It was 
the end of the first chapter of Russian history, followed by a period of chaos, with a dozen 
independent principalities waging endless wars against each other. .This created a power vac- 
uum, into which poured a new wave of conquering nomads - or rather a new off-shoot of our 
old friends the Ghuzz, whom Ibn Fadlan had found even more abhorrent than the other 
Barbarian tribes which he was obliged to visit. These "pagan and godless foes", as the 
Chronicle describes them, were called Polovtsi by the Russians, Kumans by the Byzantines, 
Kun by the Hungarians, Kipchaks by their fellow Turks. They ruled the steppes as far as 
Hungary from the late eleventh to the thirteenth century (when they, in turn, were swamped by 
the Mongol invasion).* [One substantial branch of the Kumans, fleeing from the Mongols, was 
granted asylum in Hungary in 1241, and merged with the native population. "Kun" is still a 
frequent surname in Hungary] They also fought several wars against the Byzantines. Another 
branch of the Ghuzz, the Seljuks (named after their ruling dynasty) destroyed a huge 
Byzantine army in the historic battle of Manzikert (1071) and captured the Emperor Romanus 
IV Diogenes. Henceforth the Byzantines were unable to prevent the Turks from gaining control 
of most provinces of Asia Minor-the present-day Turkey- which had previously been the heart- 
land of the East Roman Empire. 

One can only speculate whether history would have taken a different course if Byzantium 
had not abandoned its traditional policy, maintained throughout the three previous centuries, 
of relying on the Khazar stronghold against the Muslim, Turkish and Viking invaders. Be that 
as it may, Imperial Realpolitik turned out to have been not very realistic. 


During the two centuries of Kuman rule, followed by the Mongol invasion, the eastern 
steppes were once more plunged into the Dark Ages, and the later history of the 
Khazars is shrouded in even deeper obscurity than their origin. 

The references to the Khazar state in its final period of decline are found mainly in Muslim 
sources; but they are, as we shall see, so ambiguous that almost every name, date and geo- 
graphical indication is open to several interpretations. Historians, famished for facts, have 
nothing left but a few bleached bones to gnaw at like starving bloodhounds, in the forlorn 
hope of finding some hidden morsel to sustain them. 

In the light of what has been said before, it appears that the decisive event precipitating 
the decline of Khazar power was not Svyatoslav's victory, but Vladimir's conversion. How 
important was in fact that victory, which nineteenth-century historians * [Following a tradition 
set by Fraehn in 1822, in the Memnoirs of the Russian Academy] habitually equated with the 
end of the Khazar state? We remember that the Russian Chronicle mentions only the destruc- 
tion of Sarkel, the fortress, but not the destruction of Itil, the capital. That Itil was indeed 
sacked and devastated we know from several Arab sources, which are too insistent to be 
ignored; but when and by whom it was sacked is by no means clear. Ibn Hawkal, the principal 
source, says it was done by the Rus who "utterly destroyed Khazaran, Samandar and Itil" - 
apparently believing that Khazaran and Itil were different towns, whereas we know that they 
were one twin-town; and his dating of the event differs from the Russian Chronicle's dating of 
the fall of Sarkel which Ibn Hawkal does not mention at all, just as the Chronicle does not 
mention the destruction of Itil. Accordingly, Marquart suggested that Itil was sacked not by 
Svyatoslav's Rus, who only got as far as Sarkel, but by some fresh wave of Vikings. To compli- 
cate matters a little more, the second Arab source, ibn Miskawayh, says that it was a body of 
"Turks" which descended on Khazaria in the critical year 965. By "Turks" he may have meant 
the Rus, as Barthold maintained. But it could also have been a marauding horde of 
Pechenegs, for instance. It seems that we shall never know who destroyed Itil, however long 
we chew the bones. 

And how seriously was it destroyed? The principal source, Ibn Hawkal, first speaks of the 
"utter destruction" of Itil, but then he also says, writing a few years later, that "Khazaran is 
still the centre on which the Rus trade converges". Thus the phrase "utter destruction" may 
have been an exaggeration. This is the more likely because he also speaks of the "utter 
destruction" of the town of Bulghar, capital of the Volga Bulgars. Yet the damage which the 
Rus caused in Bulghar could not have been too important, as we have coins that were minted 
there in the year 976-7 - only about ten years after Svyatoslav's raid; and in the thirteenth 


century Buighar was still an important city. As Dunlop put it: 

The ultimate source of all statements that the Russians destroyed Khazaria in 
the tenth century is no doubt IbnHawkal ... Ibn Hawkal, however, speaks as 
positively of the destruction of Buighar on the middle Volga. It is quite certain 
that at the time of the Mongol attacks in the thirteenth century Buighar was a 
flourishing community Was the ruin of Khazaria also temporary? 17 

It obviously was. Khazaran-ltil, and the other towns of the Khazars, consisted mostly of 
tents, wooden dwellings and "round houses" built of mud, which were easily destroyed and 
easily rebuilt; only the royal and public buildings were of brick. 

The damage done must nevertheless have been serious, for several Arab chroniclers speak 
of a temporary exodus of the population to the Caspian shore or islands. Thus Ibn Hawkal 
says the Khazars of Itil fled from the Rus to one of the islands of the "naphta coast" [Baku], 
but later returned to Itil and Khazaran with the aid of the Muslim Shah of Shirwan. This 
sounds plausible since the people of Shirwan had no love for the Rus who had plundered 
their shores earlier on. Other Arab chroniclers, Ibn Miskawayh and Muqaddasi (writing later 
than Ibn Hlawkal), also speak of an exodus of Khazars and their return with Muslim help. 
According to Ibn Miskawayh, as a price for this help "they all adopted Islam with the exception 
of their king". Muquadassi has a different version, which does not refer to the Rus invasion; 
he only says that the inhabitants of the Khazar town went down to the sea and came back 
converted to Islam. The degree of his reliability is indicated by the fact that he describes 
Buighar as being closer to the Caspian than Itil, which amounts to placing Glasgow south of 
London.* [Yet one modern authority, Barthold, called him "one of the greatest geographers of 
all time". [Quoted by Dunlop (1954), p. 245]] .In spite of the confused and biased nature of 
these accounts, which seems all too obvious, there is probably some truth in them. The psy- 
chological shock of the invasion, the flight to the sea, and the necessity of buying Muslim 
help may have led to some deal which gave the Muslim community in Khazaria a greater say 
in the affairs of state; we remember a similar deal with Marwan two centuries earlier (I, 7), 
which involved the Kagan himself, but left no mark on Khazar history. 

According to yet another Arab source - Biruni, who died in 1048 - Itil, in his time, was in 
ruins - or rather, once more in ruins. 18 It was rebuilt again, but henceforth it went under the 
name of Saksin.*["The probability is that Saksin was identical with, or at least at no great dis- 
tance from Khazaran-ltil, and the name may be the older Sarisshin revived" (Dunlop, p. 248, 
quoting Minorski).] It figures repeatedly in the chronicles well into the twelfth century as "a 
large town on the Volga, surpassed by none in Turkestan", 19 and eventually, according to one 
source, became the victim of inundations. Another century later the Mongol ruler Batu built 
his capital on its site. 20 

In summing up what the Russian Chronicle and the Arab sources tell us about the catastro- 
phe of 965, we can say that Itil was devastated to an unknown extent by the Rus or some 
other invaders, but rebuilt more than once; and that the Khazar state emerged from the 
ordeal considerably weakened. But there can be little doubt that inside its shrunken frontiers 
it survived for at least another two hundred years, i.e., to the middle of the twelfth century, 
and perhaps - though more doubtfully - until the middle of the thirteenth. 


The first non-Arab mention of Khazaria after the fatal year 965 seems to occur in a travel 
report by Ibrahim Ibn J akub, the Spanish-J ewish ambassador to Otto the Great, who, writ- 
ing probably in 973, describes the Khazars as still flourishing in his time. 21 Next in 
chronological order is the account in the Russian Chronicle of Jews from Khazaria arriving in 
Kiev AD 986, in their misfired attempt to convert Vladimir to their faith. 

As we enter the eleventh century, we read first of the already mentioned joint Byzantine-Rus 
campaign of 1016 against Khazaria, in which the country was once more defeated. The event 
is reported by a fairly reliable source, the twelfth-century Byzantine chronicler Cedrenus. 22 A 
considerable force was apparently needed, for Cedrenus speaks of a Byzantine fleet, sup- 
ported by an army of Russians. The Khazars evidently had the qualities of a J ack-in-the-Box, 
derived from their Turkish origin, or Mosaic faith, or both. Cedrenus also says that the name 
of the defeated Khazar leader was Georgius Tzul. Georgius is a Christian name; we know from 
an earlier report that there were Christians as well as Muslims in the Kagan's army. 

The next mention of the Khazars is a laconic entry in the Russian Chronicle for the year 
1023, according to which "[Prince] Mtislav marched against his brother [Prince] Yaroslav with 
a force of Khazars and Kasogians". *[The Kasogians or Kashaks were a Caucasian tribe 
under Khazar rule and may or may not have been the ancestors of the Cossacks.] Now 
Mtislav was the ruler of the shortlived principality of Tmutorakan, centred on the Khazar town 
of Tamatarkha (now Taman) on the eastern side of the straights of Kerch. This, as already 
said, was the only Khazar territory that the Rus occupied after their victory of 965. The 
Khazars in Mtislav's army were thus probably levied from the local population by the Russian 
prince. ISeven years later (AD 1030) a Khazar army is reported to have defeated a Kurdish 
invading force, killed 10000 of its men and captured their equipment. This would be added 
evidence that the Khazars were still very much alive and kicking, if one could take the report 
at face value. But it comes from a single twelfthcentury Arab source, ibn-al-Athir, not consid- 
ered very reliable. 


Plodding on in our chronology, anxious to pick up what morsels of evidence are left, we 
come across a curious tale about an obscure Christian saint, Eustratius. Around AD 1100, he 
was apparently a prisoner in Cherson, in the Crimea, and was ill-treated by his "Jewish mas- 
ter", who forced ritual Passover food on him. 23 One need not put much trust in the authen- 
ticity of the story (St Eustratius is said to have survived fifteen days on the cross); the point is 
that it takes a strong Jewish influence in the town for granted - in Cherson of all places, a 
town nominally under Christian rule, which the Byzantines tried to deny to the Khazars, which 
was conquered by Vladimir but reverted later (circa 990) to Byzantium. .They were still equally 
powerful in Tinutorakan. For the year 1079 the Russian Chronicle has an obscure entry: "The 
Khazars [of Tmutorakan] took Oleg prisoner and shipped him overseas to Tsargrad 
[Constantinople]." That is all. Obviously the Byzantines were engaged in one of their cloak- 
and-dagger intrigues, favouring one Russian prince against his competitors. But we again find 
that the Khazars must have wielded considerable power in this Russian town, if they were 
able to capture and dispatch a Russian prince. Four years later Oleg, having come to terms 
with the Byzantines, was allowed to return to Tmutorakan where "he slaughtered the Khazars 
who had counseled the death of his brother and had plotted against himself". Oleg's brother 
Roman had actually been killed by the Kipchak-Kumans in the same year as the Khazars cap- 
tured Oleg. Did they also engineer his brother's murder by the Kumans? Or were they victims 
of the Byzantines' Macchiavellian game of playing off Khazars and Rus against each other? At 
any rate, we are approaching the end of the eleventh century, and they are still very much on 
the scene. 

A few years later, sub anno 1106, the Russian Chronicle has another laconic entry, accord- 
ing to which the Polovtsi, i.e., the Kumans, raided the vicinity of Zaretsk (west of Kiev), and 
the Russian prince sent a force out to pursue them, under the command of the three generals 
Yan, Putyata and "Ivan, the Khazar". This is the last mention of the Khazars in the Old 
Russian Chronicle, which stops ten years later, in 1116. 

But in the second half of the twelfth century, two Persian poets, Khakani (circa 1106-90) 
and the better-known Nizami (circa 1141-1203) mention in their epics a joint Khazar-Rus inva- 
sion of Shirwan during their lifetime. Although they indulged in the writing of poetry, they 
deserve to be taken seriously as they spent most of their lives as civil servants in the 
Caucasus, and had an intimate knowledge of Caucasian tribes. Khakani speaks of "Dervent 
Khazars" - Darband being the defile or "turnstile" between the Caucasus and the Black Sea, 
through which the Khazars used to raid Georgia in the good old days of the seventh century, 
before they developed a more sedate style of life. Did they revert, towards the end, to the 
unsettled nomad-warrior habits of their youth? 

After - or possibly before - these Persian testimonies, we have the tantalizingly short and 
grumpy remarks of that famed Jewish traveller, Rabbi Petachia of Regensburg, quoted earlier 
on (II, 8). We remember that he was so huffed by the lack of Talmudic learning among the 
Khazar Jews of the Crimean region that when he crossed Khazaria proper, he only heard "the 
wailing of women and the barking of dogs". Was this merely a hyperbole to express his dis- 
pleasure, or was he crossing a region devastated by a recent Kuman raid? The date is 
between 1170 and 1185; the twelfth century was drawing to its close, and the Kumans were 
now the omnipresent rulers of the steppes. .As we enter the thirteenth century, the darkness 
thickens, and even our meagre sources dry up. But there is at least one reference which 
comes from an excellent witness. It is the last mention of the Khazars as a nation, and is 
dated between 1245-7. By that time the Mongols had already swept the Kumans out of 
Eurasia and established the greatest nomad empire the world had as yet seen, extending 
from Hungary to China. 

In 1245, Pope Innocent IVsent a mission to Batu Khan, grandson of Jinghiz Khan, ruler of 
the western part of the Mongol Empire, to explore the possibilities of an understanding with 
this new world power - and also no doubt to obtain information about its military strength. 
Head of this mission was the sixty-year-old Franciscan friar, Joannes de Piano Carpini. He was 
a contemporary and disciple of St Francis of Assisi, but also an 

experienced traveller and Church diplomat who had held high offices in the hierarchy. The 
mission set out on Easter day 1245 from Cologne, traversed Germany, crossed the Dnieper 
and the Don, and arrived one year later at the capital of Batu Khan and his Golden Horde in 
the Volga estuary: the town of Sarai Batu, alias Saksin, alias Itil. 

After his return to the west, Carpini wrote his celebrated Historica Mongolorum. It contains, 
amidst a wealth of historical, ethnographical and military data, also a list of the people living 
in the regions visited by him. In this list, enumerating the people of the northern Caucasus, 
he mentions, along with the Alans and Circassians, the "Khazars observing thejewish reli- 
gion". It is, as already said, the last known mention of them before the curtain falls. 

But it took a long time until their memory was effaced. Genovese and Venetian merchants 
kept referring to the Crimea as "Gazaria" and that name occurs in Italian documents as late 
as the sixteenth century. This was, however, by that time merely a geographical designation, 
commemorating a vanished nation. 



et even after their political power was broken, they left marks of Khazar-J ewish influence 
in unexpected places, and on a variety of people. 

.Among them were the Seljuk, who may be regarded as the true founders of Muslim Turkey. 


Towards the end of the tenth century, this other offshoot of the Ghuzz had moved south- 
wards into the vicinity of Bokhara, from where they were later to erupt into Byzantine Asia 
M inor and colonize it. They do not enter directly into our story, but they do so through a back- 
door, as it were, for the great Seljuk dynasty seems to have been intimately linked with the 
Khazars. This Khazar connection is reported by Bar Hebracus (1226-86), one of the greatest 
among Syriac writers and scholars; as the name indicates, he was of Jewish origin, but con- 
verted to Christianity, and ordained a bishop at the age of twenty. 

Bar Hebraeus relates that Seljuk's father, Tukak, was a commander in the army of the 
Khazar Kagan, and that after his death, Seljuk himself, founder of the dynasty, was brought up 
at the Kagan's court. But he was an impetuous youth and took liberties with the Kagan, to 
which the Katoun - the queen - objected; as a result Seljuk had to leave, or was banned from 
the court. 24 

Another contemporary source, ibn-al-Adim's History of Aleppo, also speaks of Seljuk's 
father as "one of the notables of the Khazar Turks"; 25 while a third, Ibn Hassul, 26 reports that 
Seljuk "struck the King of the Khazars with his sword and beat him with a mace which he had 
in his hand...." We also remember the strong ambivalent attitude of the Ghuzz towards the 
Khazars, in Ibn Fadlan's travellogue. .Thus there seems to have been an intimate relationship 
between the Khazars and the founders of the Seljuk dynasty, followed by a break. This was 
probably due to the Seljuks' conversion to Islam (while the other Ghuzz tribes, such as the 
Kumans, remained pagans). Nevertheless, the Khazar-Judaic influence prevailed for some 
time even after the break. Among the four sons of Seljuk, one was given the exclusively 
J ewish name of Israel; and one grandson was called Daud (David). Dunlop, usually a very cau- 
tious author, remarks: 

In view of what has already been said, the suggestion is that these names are 
due to the religious influence among the leading families of the Ghuzz of the 
dominant Khazars. The "house of worship" among the Ghuzz mentioned by 
Qazwini might well have been a synagogue. 27 

We may add here that - according to Artamonov - specifically J ewish names also occurred 
among that other Ghuzz branch, the Kumans. The sons of the Kuman Prince Kobiak were 
called Isaac and Daniel. 

PART 10 

Where the historians' resources give out, legend and folklore provide useful hints. The 
Primary Russian Chronicle was compiled by monks; it is saturated with religious 
thought and long biblical excursions. But parallel with the ecclesiastical writings on 
which it is based, the Kiev period also produced a secular literature - the so-called bylina, 
heroic epics or folk-songs, mostly concerned with the deeds of great warriors and semi-leg- 
endary princes. The "Lay of Igor's Host", already mentioned, about that leader's defeat by the 
Kumans, is the best known among them. The bylina were transmitted by oral tradition and - 
according to Vernadsky "were still chanted by peasants in remote villages of northern Russia 
in the beginning of the twentieth century". 28 

In striking contrast to the Russian Chronicle, these epics do not mention by name the 
Khazars or their country; instead they speak of the "country of the Jews" (Zemlya Jidovskaya), 
and of its inhabitants as "Jewish heroes" IJidovin bogatir) who ruled the steppes and fought 
the armies of the Russian princes. One such hero, the epics tell us, was a giant Jew, who 
came "from the Zemlya J idovskaya to the steppes of Tsetsar under Mount Sorochin, and only 
the bravery of Vladimir's general, llya Murometz, saved Vladimir's army from the Jews". 29 
There are several versions of this tale, and the search for the whereabouts of Tsetsar and 
Mount Sorochin provided historians with another lively game. But, as Poliak has pointed out, 
"the point to retain is that in the eyes of the Russian people the neighbouring Khazaria in its 
final period was simply 'the Jewish state', and its army was an army of Jews". 30 This popular 
Russian view differs considerably from the tendency among Arab chroniclers to emphasize 
the importance of the Muslim mercenaries in the Khazar forces, and the number of mosques 
in Itil (forgetting to count the synagogues). .The legends which circulated among Western 
Jews in the Middle Ages provide a curious parallel to the Russian bylina. .To quote Poliak 
again: "The popular Jewish legend does not remember a 'Khazar' kingdom but a kingdom of 
the 'Red Jews'." And Baron comments: 

The Jews of other lands were flattered by the existence of an independent 
Jewish state. Popular imagination found here a particularly fertile field. Just as 
the biblically minded Slavonic epics speak of "Jews" rather than Khazars, so 
did western Jews long after spin romantic tales around those "red Jews", so 
styled perhaps because of the slight Mongolian pigmentation of many 
Khazars. 31 

PART 11 


nother bit of semi-legendary, semi-historical folklore connected with the Khazars sur- 
vived into modern times, and so fascinated Benjamin Disraeli that he used it as material 
for a historical romance: The Wondrous Tale of Alroy. 


In the twelfth century there arose in Khazaria a Messianic movement, a rudimentary 
attempt at a J ewish crusade, aimed at the conquest of Palestine by force of arms. The initia- 
tor of the movement was a Khazar J ew, one Solomon ben Duji (or Ruhi or Roy), aided by his 
son Menahem and a Palestinian scribe. "They wrote letters to all the Jews, near and far, in all 
the lands around them.... They said that the time had come in which God would gather Israel, 
His people from all lands to Jerusalem, the holy city, and that Solomon Ben Duji was Elijah, 
and his son the Messiah."* [The main sources for this movement are a report by the Jewish 
traveller Benjamin of Tudela (see above, II, 8); a hostile account by the Arab writer Yahya al- 
Maghribi, and two Hebrew manuscripts found in the Cairo Geniza (see above, II, 7). They add 
up to a confusing mosaic; I have followed Baron's careful interpretation (Vol. Ill, p. 204; Vol. IV, 
pp. 202-4, and notes).] 

These appeals were apparently addressed to the Jewish communities in the Middle East, 
and seemed to have had little effect, for the next episode takes place only about twenty years 
later, when young Menahem assumed the name David al-Roy, and the title of Messiah. Though 
the movement originated in Khazaria, its centre soon shifted to Kurdistan. Here David assem- 
bled a substantial armed force -possibly of local Jews, reinforced by Khazars -and succeeded 
in taking possession of the strategic fortress of Amadie, north-east of Mosul. From here he 
may have hoped to lead his army to Edessa, and fight his way through Syria into the Holy 

The whole enterprise may have been a little less quixotic than it seems now, in view of the 
constant feuds between the various Muslim armies, and the gradual disintegration of the 
Crusader strongholds. Besides, some local Muslim commanders might have welcomed the 
prospect of a Jewish crusade against the Christian Crusaders. .Among the Jews of the Middle 
East, David certainly aroused fervent Messianic hopes. One of his messengers came to 
Baghdad and - probably with excessive zeal - instructed its J ewish citizens to assemble on a 
certain night on their flat roofs, whence they would be flown on clouds to the Messiah's 
camp. A goodly number of Jews spent that night on their roofs awaiting the miraculous flight. 
.But the rabbinical hierarchy in Baghdad, fearing reprisals by the authorities, took a hostile 
attitude to the pseudo-Messiah and threatened him with a ban. Not surprisingly, David al-Roy 
was assassinated - apparently in his sleep, allegedly by his own father-in-law, whom some 
interested party had bribed to do the deed. .His memory was venerated, and when Benjamin 
of Tudela travelled through Persia twenty years after the event, "they still spoke lovingly of 
their leader". But the cult did not stop there. According to one theory, the six-pointed "shield 
of David" which adorns the modern Israeli flag, started to become a national symbol with 
David al-Roy's crusade. "Ever since," writes Baron, "it has been suggested, the six-cornered 
'shield of David', theretofore mainly a decorative motif or a magical emblem, began its career 
toward becoming the chief national-religious symbol of Judaism. Long used interchangeably 
with the pentagram or the 'seal of Solomon', it was attributed to David in mystic and ethical 
German writings from the thirteenth century on, and appeared on the J ewish flag in Prague in 
1527." 32 .Baron appends a qualifying note to this passage, pointing out that the connection 
between al-Roy and the six-pointed star "still awaits further elucidation and proof". However 
that may be, we can certainly agree with Baron's dictum which concludes his chapter on 

During the half millenium of its existence and its aftermath in the East 
European communities, this noteworthy experiment in J ewish statecraft doubt- 
less exerted a greater influence on Jewish history than we are as yet able to 



1 Russian Chronicle, p. 84. 

2 Dunlop(1954), p. 238. 

2a Quoted by Dunlop (1954), p. 2 10. 

2b Quoted by Dunlop (1954), pp. 211-12. 

3 Quoted by Zeki Validi. 

4 Russian Chronicle, p. 84. 
4a ibid., p. 84. 

5 Ibid., p. go. 

6 Toynbee, Op. cit. , p. 451. 

7 Russian Chronicle, p. 94. 

8 Ibid., p. 97. 

9 Ibid., p. 97. 

10 Ibid., p. 98. 

11 Ibid., p. 111. 

12 Ibid., p. 112, 

13 Vernadsky, G. (1948), pp. 29. 33. 

14 DeAdmirdstrando, chs. 10-12. 

15 Toynbee, p. 508. 

16 Bury, Op. cit, p. 414. 

17 Op, cit, p. 250. 

18 Quoted by Dunlop (1954), p. 245. 

19 Zeki Validi, p. 206. 

20 Ahmad Tusi (twelfth century), quoted by Zeki Validi, p. 205. 

21 Dunlop (1954), p. 249. 

22 Baron. Vol. IV, p. 174. 

23 Quoted by Dunlop (19s4), p. 251. 

24 Kievo Pechershii Paterik, quoted by Baron, Vol. IV, p. 192. 

25 Quoted by Dunlop (1954), p. 260. 

26 Quoted by Zeki Validi, p. 143. 

27 Ibid, p. xxvii. 

28 Dunlop (1954), p. 261. 

29 Vernadsky, p. 44. 

30 Poliak, ch. VII. 

31 Loc. cit. 

32 Baron., Vol. Ill, p. 204. 

33 Baron, loc. cit. 


The Thirteenth Tribe 

Arthur Koes tier 

Part Two, The Heritage 
V Exodus 

THE evidence quoted in the previous pages indicates that -contrary to the traditional view 
held by nineteenth-century historians -the Khazars, after the defeat by the Russians in 
965, lost their empire but retained their independence within narrower frontiers, and 
their Judaic faith, well into the thirteenth century. They even seem to have reverted to some 
extent to their erstwhile predatory habits. Baron comments: 

In general, the reduced Khazar kingdom persevered. It waged a more or less 
effective defence against all foes until the middle of the thirteenth century, 
when it fell victim to the great Mongol invasion set in motion byjenghiz Khan. 
Even then it resisted stubbornly until the surrender of all its neighbours. Its 
population was largely absorbed by the Golden Horde which had established 
the centre of its empire in Khazar territory. But before and after the Mongol 
upheaval the Khazars sent many offshoots into the unsubdued Slavonic lands, 
helping ultimately to build up the great Jewish centres of eastern Europe. 1 

Here, then, we have the cradle of the numerically strongest and culturally dominant part of 
modern Jewry. .The "offshoots" to which Baron refers were indeed branching out long before 
the destruction of the Khazar state by the Mongols - as the ancient Hebrew nation had 
started branching into the Diaspora long before the destruction of Jerusalem. Ethnically, the 
Semitic tribes on the waters of the Jordan and the Turko-Khazar tribes on the Volga were of 
course "miles apart", but they had at least two important formative factors in common. Each 
lived at a focal junction where the great trade routes connecting east and west, north and 
south intersect; a circumstance which predisposed them to become nations of traders, of 
enterprising travellers, or "rootless cosmopolitans" -as hostile propaganda has unaffection- 
ately labelled them. But at the same time their exclusive religion fostered a tendency to keep 
to themselves and stick together, to establish their own communities with their own places of 
worship, schools, residential quarters and ghettoes (originally self-imposed) in whatever town 
or country they settled. This rare combination of wanderlust and ghetto-mentality, reinforced 
by Messianic hopes and chosen-race pride, both ancient Israelites and mediaeval Khazars 
shared -even though the latter traced their descent not to Shem but to Japheth. 

This development is well illustrated by what one might call the Khazar Diaspora in 
Hungary. .We remember that long before the destruction of their state, several Khazar 
tribes, known as the Kabars, joined the Magyars and migrated to Hungary. Moreover, in 
the tenth century, the Hungarian Duke Taksony invited a second wave of Khazar emigrants to 
settle in his domains (see above, III, 9). Two centuries later John Cinnamus, the Byzantine 
chronicler, mentions troops observing the Jewish law, fighting with the Hungarian army in 
Dalmatia, AD 1154.2 There may have been small numbers of "real Jews" living in Hungary 
from Roman days, but there can be little doubt that the majority of this important portion of 
modern Jewry originated in the migratory waves of Kabar-Khazars who play such a dominant 
part in early Hungarian history. Not only was the country, as Constantine tells us, bilingual at 
its beginning, but it also had a form of double kingship, a variation of the Khazar system: the 
king sharing power with his general in command, who bore the title of Jula or Gyula (still a 
popular Hungarian first name). The system lasted to the end of the tenth century, when St 
Stephen embraced the Roman Catholic faith and defeated a rebellious Gyula - who, as one 
might expect, was a Khazar, "vain in the faith and refusing to become a Christian". 3 

This episode put an end to the double kingship, but not to the influence of the Khazar- 
J ewish community in Hungary. A reflection of that influence can be found in the "Golden Bull" 
- the Hungarian equivalent of Magna Carta - issued AD 1222 by King Endre (Andrew) II, in 
which Jews were forbidden to act as mintmasters, tax collectors, and controllers of the royal 
salt monopoly - indicating that before the edict numerous J ews must have held these impor- 
tant posts. But they occupied even more exalted positions. King Endre's custodian of the 
Revenues of the Royal Chamber was the Chamberlain Count Teka, a Jew of Khazar origin, a 


rich landowner, and apparently a financial and diplomatic genius. His signature appears on 
various peace treaties and financial agreements, among them one guaranteeing the payment 
of 2000 marks by the Austrian ruler Leopold II to the King of Hungary. One is irresistibly 
reminded of a similar role played by the Spanish Jew Hasdai ibn Shaprut at the court of the 
Caliph of Cordoba. Comparing similar episodes from the Palestinian Diaspora in the west and 
the Khazar Diaspora in the east of Europe, makes the analogy between them appear perhaps 
less tenuous. .It is also worth mentioning that when King Endre was compelled by his rebel- 
lious nobles to issue, reluctantly, the Golden Bull, he kept Teka in office against the Bull's 
express provisions. The Royal Chamberlain held his post happily for another eleven years, 
until papal pressure on the King made it advisable for Teka to resign and betake himself to 
Austria, where he was received with open arms. However, King Endre's son Bela IV, obtained 
papal permission to call him back. Teka duly returned, and perished during the Mongol inva- 
sion.* [I am indebted to Mrs St G. Saunders for calling my attention to the Teka episode, 
which seems to have been overlooked in the literature on the Khazars.] 4 

The Khazar origin of the numerically and socially dominant element in the J ewish popula- 
tion of Hungary during the Middle Ages is thus relatively well documented. It might seem 
that Hungary constitutes a special case, in view of the early Magyar-Khazar connection; 
but in fact the Khazar influx into Hungary was merely a part of the general mass-migration 
from the Eurasian steppes toward the West, i.e., towards Central and Eastern Europe. The 
Khazars were not the only nation which sent offshoots into Hungary. Thus large numbers of 
the self-same Pechenegs who had chased the Magyars from the Don across the Carpathians, 
were forced to ask for permission to settle in Hungarian territory when they in turn were 
chased by the Kumans; and the Kumans shared the same fate when, a century later, they fled 
from the Mongols, and some 40000 of them "with their slaves" were granted asylum by the 
Hungarian King Bela. 5 

At relatively quiescent times this general westward movement of the Eurasian populations 
was no more than a drift; at other times it became a stampede; but the consequences of the 
Mongol invasion must rank on this metaphoric scale as an earthquake followed by a land- 
slide. The warriors of Chief Tejumin, called "Jinghiz Khan", Lord of the Earth, massacred the 
population of whole cities as a warning to others not to resist; used prisoners as living 
screens in front of their advancing lines; destroyed the irrigation network of the Volga delta 
which had provided the Khazar lands with rice and other staple foods; and transformed the 
fertile steppes into the "wild fields" -dikoyeh pole -as the Russians were later to call them: 
an unlimited space without farmers or shepherds, through which only mercenary horsemen 
pass in the service of this or that rival ruler -or people escaping from such rule". 6 

The Black Death of 1347-8 accelerated the progressive depopulation of the former Khazar 
heartland between Caucasus, Don and Volga, where the steppe-culture had reached its high- 
est level - and the relapse into barbarism was, by contrast, more drastic than in adjoining 
regions. As Baron wrote: "The destruction or departure of industrious Jewish farmers, arti- 
sans and merchants left behind a void which in those regions has only recently begun to be 
filled." 7 Not only Khazaria was destroyed, but also the Volga Bulgar country, together with the 
last Caucasian strongholds of the Alans and Kumans, and the southern Russian principali- 
ties, including Kiev. During the period of disintegration of the Golden Horde, from the four- 
teenth century onward, the anarchy became, if possible, even worse. "In most of the 
European steppes emigration was the only way left open for populations who wanted to 
secure their lives and livelihood". 8 The migration toward safer pastures was a protracted, 
intermittent process which went on for several centuries. The Khazar exodus was part of the 
general picture. 

It had been preceded, as already mentioned, by the founding of Khazar colonies and settle- 
ments in various places in the Ukraine and southern Russia. There was a flourishing Jewish 
community in Kiev long before and after the Rus took the town from the Khazars. Similar 
colonies existed in Perislavel and Chernigov. A Rabbi Mosheh of Kiev studied in France around 
1160, and a Rabbi Abraham of Chernigov studied in 1181 in the Talmud School of London. 
The "Lay of Igor's Host" mentions a famous contemporary Russian poet called Kogan - possi- 
bly a combination of Cohen (priest) and Kagan.9 Some time after Sarkel, which the Russians 
called Biela Veza, was destroyed the Khazars built a town of the same name near 
Chernigov. 10 

There is an abundance of ancient place names in the Ukraine and Poland, which derive 
from "Khazar" or "Zhid" (Jew): Zydowo, Kozarzewek, Kozara, Kozarzow, Zhydowska Vola, 
Zydaticze, and so on. They may have once been villages, or just temporary encampments of 
Khazar-J ewish communities on their long trek to the west. 11 Similar place-names can also be 
found in the Carpathian and Tatra mountains, and in the eastern provinces of Austria. Even 
the ancient Jewish cemeteries of Cracow and Sandomierz, both called "Kaviory", are 
assumed to be of Khazar-Kabar origin. 

While the main route of the Khazar exodus led to the west, some groups of people were left 
behind, mainly in the Crimea and the Caucasus, where they formed J ewish enclaves surviving 
into modern times. In the ancient Khazar stronghold of Tamatarkha (Taman), facing the 
Crimea across the straits of Kerch, we hear of a dynasty of J ewish princes who ruled in the fif- 
teenth century under the tutelage of the Genovese Republic, and later of the Crimean Tartars. 
The last of them, Prince Zakharia, conducted negotiations with the Prince of Muscovi, who 


invited Zakharia to come to Russia and let himself be baptized in exchange for receiving the 
privileges of a Russian nobleman. Zakharia refused, but Poliak has suggested that in other 
cases "the introduction of Khazar-Jewish elements into exalted positions in the Muscovite 
state may have been one of the factors which led to the appearance of the 'Jewish heresy' 
(Zhidovst-buyushtchik) among Russian priests and noblemen in the sixteenth century, and of 
the sect of Sabbath-observers (Subbotniki) which is still widespread among Cossacks and 
peasants". 12 

Another vestige of the Khazar nation are the "Mountain Jews" in the north- eastern 
Caucasus, who apparently stayed behind in their original habitat when the others left. They 
are supposed to number around eight thousand and live in the vicinity of other tribal rem- 
nants of the olden days: Kipchaks and Oghuz. They call themselves Dagh Chufuty (Highland 
Jews) in the Tat language which they have adopted from another Caucasian tribe; but little 
else is known about them.* [The above data appear in A. H. Kniper's article Caucasus, People 
of in the 1973 printing of the Enc. Brit, based on recent Soviet sources. A book by George 
Sava, Valley of the Forgotten People (London, 1946) contains a description of a purported visit 
to the mountain J ews, rich in melodrama but sadly devoid of factual information.] 

Other Khazar enclaves have survived in the Crimea, and no doubt elsewhere too in locali- 
ties which once belonged to their empire. But these are now no more than historic curios 
compared to the mainstream of the Khazar migration into the Polish-Lithuanian regions -and 
the formidable problems it poses to historians and anthropologists. 

The regions in eastern Central Europe, in which the Jewish emigrants from Khazaria found 
a new home and apparent safety, had only begun to assume political importance toward 
the end of the first millennium. 

Around 962, several Slavonic tribes formed an alliance under the leadership of the 
strongest among them, the Polans, which became the nucleus of the Polish state. Thus the 
Polish rise to eminence started about the same time as the Khazar decline (Sarkel was 
destroyed in 965). It is significant that Jews play an important role in one of the earliest 
Polish legends relating to the foundation of the Polish kingdom. We are told that when the 
allied tribes decided to elect a king to rule them all, they chose a Jew, named Abraham 
Prokownik. 13 He may have been a rich and educated Khazar merchant, from whose experience 
the Slav backwoodsmen hoped to benefit -or just a legendary figure; but, if so, the legend 
indicates that Jews of his type were held in high esteem. At any rate, so the story goes on, 
Abraham, with unwonted modesty, resigned the crown in favour of a native peasant named 
Piast, who thus became the founder of the historic Piast dynasty which ruled Poland from 
circa 962 to 1370. 

Whether Abraham Prochownik existed or not, there are plenty of indications that the Jewish 
immigrants from Khazaria were welcomed as a valuable asset to the country's economy and 
government administration. The Poles under the Piast dynasty, and their Baltic neighbours, 
the Lithuanians,* [The two nations became united in a series of treaties, starting in 1386, 
into the Kingdom of Poland. For the sake of brevity, I shall use the term "Polish Jews" to refer 
to both countries - regardless of the fact that at the end of the eighteenth century Poland was 
partitioned between Russia, Prussia and Austria, and its inhabitants became officially citizens 
of these three countries. 

Actually the so-called Pale of Settlement within Imperial Russia, to which Jews were con- 
fined from 1792 onward, coincided with the areas annexed from Poland plus parts of the 
Ukraine. Only certain privileged categories of Jews were permitted to live outside the Pale; 
these, at the time of the 1897 census, numbered only 200000, as compared to nearly five 
million inside the Pale - i.e., within former Polish territory] had rapidly expanded their fron- 
tiers, and were in dire need of immigrants to colonize their territories, and to create an urban 
civilization. They encouraged, first, the immigration of German peasants, burghers and crafts- 
men, and later of migrants from the territories occupied by the Golden Horde,* [Poland and 
Hungary were also briefly invaded by the Mongols in 124142, but they were not occupied - 
which made all the difference to their future history] including Armenians, southern Slavs and 

Not all these migrations were voluntary. They included large numbers of prisoners of war, 
such as Crimean Tartars, who were put to cultivate the estates of Lithuanian and Polish land- 
lords in the conquered southern provinces (at the close of the fourteenth century the 
Lithuanian principality stretched from the Baltic to the Black Sea). But in the fifteenth century 
the Ottoman Turks, conquerors of Byzantium, advanced northward, and the landlords trans- 
ferred the people from their estates in the border areas further inland. 14 

Among the populations thus forcibly transferred was a strong contingent of Karaites - the 
fundamentalist Jewish sect which rejected rabbinical learning. According to a tradition which 
has survived among Karaites into modern times, their ancestors were brought to Poland by 
the great Lithuanian warrior- prince Vytautas (Vitold) at the end of the fourteenth century as 
prisoners of war from Sulkhat in the Crimea. 15 In favour of this tradition speaks the fact that 
Vitold in 1388 granted a charter of rights to the Jews of Troki, and the French traveller, de 
Lanoi, found there "a great number of Jews" speaking a different language from the Germans 
and natives. 16 That language was -and still is -a Turkish dialect, in fact the nearest among liv- 
ing languages to the lingua cumanica, which was spoken in the former Khazar territories at 
the time of the Golden Horde. According to Zajaczkowski, 17 this language is still used in 


speech and prayer in the surviving Karaite communities in Troki, Vilna, Ponyeviez, Lutzk and 
Halitch. The Karaites also claim that before the Great Plague of 1710 they had some thirty- 
two or thirty-seven communities in Poland and Lithuania. 

They call their ancient dialect "the language of Kedar" -just as Rabbi Petachia in the twelfth 
century called their habitat north of the Black Sea "the land of Kedar"; and what he has to 
say about them - sitting in the dark through the Sabbath, ignorance of rabbinical learning - fits 
their sectarian attitude. 

Accordingly, Zajaczkowski, the eminent contemporary Turcologist, considers the Karaites 
from the linguistic point of view as the purest present-day representatives of the ancient 
Khazars. 18 About the reasons why this sect preserved its language for about half a millen- 
nium, while the main body of Khazarjews shed it in favour of the Yiddish lingua franca, more 
will have to be said later. 

The Polish kingdom adopted from its very beginnings under the Piast dynasty a resolutely 
Western orientation, together with Roman Catholicism. But compared with its western 
neighbours it was culturally and economically an underdeveloped country. Hence the pol- 
icy of attracting immigrants - Germans from the west, Armenians and Khazarjews from the 
east - and giving them every possible encouragement for their enterprise, including Royal 
Charters detailing their duties and special privileges. 

In the Charter issued by Boleslav the Pious in 1264, and confirmed by Casimir the Great in 
1334, Jews were granted the right to maintain their own synagogues, schools and courts; to 
hold landed property, and engage in any trade or occupation they chose. Under the rule of 
King Stephen Bthory (1575-86) Jews were granted a Parliament of their own which met twice 
a year and had the power to levy taxes on their co-religionists. After the destruction of their 
country, Khazar Jewry had entered on a new chapter in its history. 

A striking illustration for their privileged condition is given in a papal breve, issued in the 
second half of the thirteenth century, probably by Pope Clement IV, and addressed to an 
unnamed Polish prince. In this document the Pope lets it be known that the Roman authori- 
ties are well aware of the existence of a considerable number of synagogues in several Polish 
cities -indeed no less than five synagogues in one city alone.* [Probably Wroclaw or Cracow.] 
He deplores the fact that these synagogues are reported to be taller than the churches, more 
stately and ornamental, and roofed with colourfully painted leaden plates, making the adja- 
cent Catholic churches look poor in comparison. (One is reminded of Masudi's gleeful remark 
that the minaret of the main mosque was the tallest building in Itil.) The complaints in the 
breve are further authenticated by a decision of the Papal legate, Cardinal Guido, dated 1267, 
stipulating that Jews should not be allowed more than one synagogue to a town. 

We gather from these documents, which are roughly contemporaneous with the Mongol con- 
quest of Khazaria, that already at that time there must have been considerable numbers of 
Khazars present in Poland if they had in several towns more than one synagogue; and that 
they must have been fairly prosperous to build them so "stately and ornamental". This leads 
us to the question of the approximate size and composition of the Khazar immigration into 

Regarding the numbers involved, we have no reliable information to guide us. We remember 
that the Arab sources speak of Khazar armies numbering three hundred thousand men 
involved in the Muslim-Khazar wars (Chapter I, 7); and even if allowance is made for quite wild 
exaggerations, this would indicate a total Khazar population of at least half a million souls. 
Ibn Fadlan gave the number of tents of the Volga Bulgars as 50000, which would mean a pop- 
ulation of 300000-400000, i.e., roughly the same order of magnitude as the Khazars'. On the 
other hand, the number of Jews in the Polish-Lithuanian kingdom in the seventeenth century 
is also estimated by modern historians at 500000 (5 per cent of the total population). 19 
These figures do not fit in too badly with the known facts about a protracted Khazar migration 
via the Ukraine to Poland-Lithuania, starting with the destruction of Sarkel and the rise of the 
Piast dynasty toward the end of the first millennium, accelerating during the Mongol conquest, 
and being more or less completed in the fifteenth-sixteenth centuries - by which time the 
steppe had been emptied and the Khazars had apparently been wiped off the face of the 
earth.* [The last of the ancient Khazar villages on the Dnieper were destroyed in the Cossack 
revolt under Chmelnicky in the seventeenth century, and the survivors gave a further powerful 
boost to the number of Jews in the already existing settlement areas of Poland-Lithuania.] 
Altogether this population transfer was spread out over five or six centuries of trickle and flow. 
If we take into account the considerable influx of Jewish refugees from Byzantium and the 
Muslim world into Khazaria, and a small population increase among the Khazars themselves, 
it appears plausible that the tentative figures for the Khazar population at its peak in the 
eighth century should be comparable to that of the J ews in Poland in the seventeenth century, 
at least by order of magnitude - give or take a few hundred thousand as a token of our igno- 
rance. There is irony hidden in these numbers. 

According to the article "statistics" in the Jewish Encyclopaedia, in the sixteenth century 
the total Jewish population of the world amounted to about one million. This seems to indi- 
cate, as Poliak, Kutschera 20 and others have pointed out, that during the Middle Ages the 
majority of those who professed the Judaic faith were Khazars. A substantial part of this 
majority went to Poland, Lithuania, Hungary and the Balkans, where they founded that Eastern 
Jewish community which in its turn became the dominant majority of world J ewry. Even if the 


original core of that community was diluted and augmented by immigrants from other regions 
(see below), its predominantly Khazar-Turkish derivation appears to be supported by strong 
evidence, and should at least be regarded as a theory worth serious discussion. 

Additional reasons for attributing the leading role in the growth and development of the 
Jewish community in Poland and the rest of Eastern Europe mainly to the Khazar element, 
and not to immigrants from the West, will be discussed in the chapters that follow. But it may 
be appropriate at this point to quote the Polish historian, Adam Vetulani (my italics): 

Polish scholars agree that these oldest settlements were founded by Jewish 
emigres from the Khazar state and Russia, while the Jews from Southern and 
Western Europe began to arrive and settle only later . . . and that a certain pro- 
portion at least of the J ewish population (in earlier times, the main bulk) origi- 
nated from the east, from the Khazar country, and later from Kievian Russia. 21 

So much for size. But what do we know of the social structure and composition of the 
Khazar immigrant community? The first impression one gains is a striking similarity 
between certain privileged positions held by Khazar Jews in Hungary and in Poland in 
those early days. Both the Hungarian and Polish sources refer to Jews employed as mintmas- 
ters, administrators of the royal revenue, controllers of the salt monopoly, taxcollectors and 
"money-lenders" - i.e., bankers. This parallel suggests a common origin of those two immi- 
grant communities; and as we can trace the origins of the bulk of Hungarian Jewry to the 
Magyar-Khazar nexus, the conclusion seems self-evident. 

The early records reflect the part played by immigrant Jews in the two countries' budding 
economic life. That it was an important part is not surprising, since foreign trade and the levy- 
ing of customs duties had been the Khazars' principal source of income in the past. They had 
the experience which their new hosts were lacking, and it was only logical that they were 
called in to advise and participate in the management of the finances of court and nobility. 
The coins minted in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries with Polish inscriptions in Hebrew let- 
tering (see Chapter II, 1) are somewhat bizarre relics of these activities. The exact purpose 
they served is still something of a mystery. Some bear the name of a king (e.g., Leszek, 
Mieszko), others are inscribed "From the House of Abraham ben Joseph the Prince" (possibly 
the minter-banker himself), or show just a word of benediction: "Luck" or "Blessing". 
Significantly, contemporary Hungarian sources also speak of the practice of minting coins 
from silver provided by J ewish owners. 22 

However - in constrast to Western Europe - finance and commerce were far from being the 
only fields of Jewish activity. Some rich emigrants became landowners in Poland as Count 
Teka was in Hungary; Jewish land-holdings comprising a whole village of Jewish farmers are 
recorded, for instance, in the vicinity of Breslau before 1203;23 and in the early days there 
must have been Khazar peasants in considerable numbers, as the ancient Khazar place- 
names seem to indicate. 

A tantalizing glimpse of how some of these villages may have come into being is provided 
by the Karaite records mentioned before; they relate how Prince Vitold settled a group of 
Karaite prisoners-of-war in "Krasna", providing them with houses, orchards and land to a dis- 
tance of one and a half miles. ("Krasna" has been tentatively identified with the Jewish small 
town Krasnoia in Podolia.) 24 

But farming did not hold out a future for the J ewish community. There were several reasons 
for this. The rise of feudalism in the fourteenth century gradually transformed the peasants of 
Poland into serfs, forbidden to leave their villages, deprived of freedom of movement. At the 
same time, under the joint pressure of the ecclesiastic hierarchy and the feudal landlords, the 
Polish Parliament in 1496 forbade the acquisition of agricultural land by Jews. But the 
process of alienation from the soil must have started long before that. 

Apart from the specific causes just mentioned - religious discrimination, combined with the 
degradation of the free peasants into serfs -the transformation of the predominantly agricul- 
tural nation of Khazars into a predominantly urban community reflected a common phenome- 
non in the history of migrations. Faced with different climatic conditions and farming methods 
on the one hand, and on the other with unexpected opportunities for an easier living offered 
by urban civilization, immigrant populations are apt to change their occupational structure 
within a few generations. The offspring of Abruzzi peasants in the New World became waiters 
and restaurateurs, the grandsons of Polish farmers may become engineers or psychoana- 
lysts.* [The opposite process of colonists settling on virgin soil applies to migrants from more 
highly developed to under-developed regions.] 

However, the transformation of Khazar Jewry into Polish Jewry did not entail any brutal 
break with the past, or loss of identity. It was a gradual, organic process of change, which - as 
Poliak has convincingly shown - preserved some vital traditions of Khazar communal life in 
their new country. This was mainly achieved through the emergence of a social structure, or 
way of life, found nowhere else in the world Diaspora: the Jewish small town, in Hebrew 
ayarah, in Yiddish shtetl, in Polish miastecko. All three designations are diminutives, which, 
however, do not necessarily refer to smallness in size (some were quite big small-towns) but 
to the limited rights of municipal selfgovernment they enjoyed. 

The shtetl should not be confused with the ghetto. The latter consisted of a street or quar- 
ter in which J ews were compelled to live within the confines of a Gentile town. It was, from the 


second half of the sixteenth century onward, the universal habitat of Jews everywhere in the 
Christian, and most of the Muslim, world. The ghetto was surrounded by walls, with gates that 
were locked at night. It gave rise to claustrophobia and mental inbreeding, but also to a sense 
of relative security in times of trouble. As it could not expand in size, the houses were tall and 
narrow-chested, and permanent overcrowding created deplorable sanitary conditions. It took 
great spiritual strength for people living in such circumstances to keep their self-respect. Not 
all of them did. 

The shtetl, on the other hand, was a quite different proposition -a type of settlement which, 
as already said, existed only in Poland-Lithuania and nowhere else in the world. It was a self- 
contained country town with an exclusively or predominantly Jewish population. The shtetl's 
origins probably date back to the thirteenth century, and may represent the missing link, as it 
were, between the market towns of Khazaria and the Jewish settlements in Poland. 

The economic and social function of these semi-rural, semiurban agglomerations seems to 
have been similar in both countries. In Khazaria, as later in Poland, they provided a network of 
trading posts or market towns which mediated between the needs of the big towns and the 
countryside. They had regular fairs at which sheep and cattle, alongside the goods manufac- 
tured in the towns and the products of the rural cottage industries were sold or bartered; at 
the same time they were the centres where artisans plied their crafts, from wheelwrights to 
blacksmiths, silversmiths, tailors, Kosher butchers, millers, bakers and candlestick-makers. 
There were also letter-writers for the illiterate, synagogues for the faithful, inns for travellers, 
and a heder- Hebrew for "room", which served as a school. There were itinerant story-tellers 
and folk bards (some of their names, such as Velvel Zbarzher, have been preserved)25 travel- 
ling from shtetl to shtetl in Poland - and no doubt earlier on in Khazaria, if one is to judge by 
the survival of story-tellers among Oriental people to our day. 

Some particular trades became virtually a J ewish monopoly in Poland. One was dealing in 
timber - which reminds one that timber was the chief building material and an important 
export in Khazaria; another was transport. "The dense net of shtetls," writes Poliak, 26 "made 
it possible to distribute manufactured goods over the whole country by means of the superbly 
built J ewish type of horse cart. The preponderance of this kind of transport, especially in the 
east of the country, was so marked amounting to a virtual monopoly - that the Hebrew word 
for carter, ba'al agalah * [Literally " master of the cart".] was incorporated into the Russian lan- 
guage as balagula. Only the development of the railway in the second half of the nineteenth 
century led to a decline in this trade." 

Now this specialization in coach-building and cartering could certainly not have developed in 
the closed ghettoes of Western J ewry; it unmistakably points to a Khazar origin. The people of 
the ghettoes were sedentary; while the Khazars, like other semi-nomadic people, used horse- 
or ox-drawn carts to transport their tents, goods and chattel - including royal tents the size of 
a circus, fit to accommodate several hundred people. They certainly had the know-how to 
negotiate the roughest tracks in their new country. 

Other specifically J ewish occupations were inn-keeping, the running of flour mills and trad- 
ing in furs -none of them found in the ghettoes of Western Europe. 

Such, in broad outlines, was the structure of the Jewish shtetl in Poland. Some of its fea- 
tures could be found in old market towns in any country; others show a more specific affinity 
with what we know - little though it is - about the townships of Khazaria, which were probably 
the prototypes of the Polish shtetl. 

To these specific features should be added the "pagoda-style" of the oldest surviving 
wooden shtetl synagogues dating from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, which is totally 
different from both the native style of architecture and from the building style adopted by 
Western J ews and replicated later on in the ghettoes of Poland. The interior decoration of the 
oldest shtetl synagogues is also quite different from the style of the Western ghetto; the walls 
of the shtetl synagogue were covered with Moorish arabesques, and with animal figures char- 
acteristic of the Persian influence found in Magyar-Khazar artefacts 1 ' 13 and in the decorative 
style brought to Poland by Armenian immigrants. 27 

The traditional garb of Polish J ewry is also of unmistakably Eastern origin. The typical long 
silk kaftan may have been an imitation of the coat worn by the Polish nobility, which itself was 
copied from the outfit of the Mongols in the Golden Horde -fashions travel across political 
divisions; but we know that kaftans were worn long before that by the nomads of the steppes. 
The skull-cap (yarmolka) is worn to this day by orthodox Jews -and by the Uzbeks and other 
Turkish people in the Soviet Union. On top of the skull-cap men wore the streimel, an elabo- 
rate round hat rimmed with fox-fur, which the Khazars copied from the Khasaks -or vice versa. 
As already mentioned, the trade in fox and sable furs, which had been flourishing in Khazaria, 
became another virtual Jewish monopoly in Poland. As for the women, they wore, until the 
middle of the nineteenth century, a tall white turban, which was an exact copy of the J auluk 
worn by Khasak and Turkmen women. 28 (Nowadays orthodox Jewesses have to wear instead 
of a turban a wig made of their own hair, which is shaved off when they get married.) 

One might also mention in this context - though somewhat dubiously - the Polish J ews' odd 
passion for gefillte (stuffed) fisch, a national dish which the Polish Gentiles adopted. "Without 
fish", the saying went, "there is no Sabbath." Was it derived from distant memories of life on 
the Caspian, where fish was the staple diet? 

Life in the shtetl is celebrated with much romantic nostalgia in Jewish literature and folk- 
lore. Thus we read in a modern survey of its customs 29 about the joyous way its inhabitants 
celebrated the Sabbath: 


Wherever one is, he will try to reach home in time to greet the Sabbath with his 
own family. The pedlar travelling from village to village, the itinerant tailor, shoe- 
maker, cobbler, the merchant off on a trip, all will plan, push, hurry, trying to 
reach home before sunset on Friday evening. 

As they press homeward the shammes calls through the streets of the shtetl, 
"Jews to the bathhouse!" A functionary of the synagogue, the shammes is a 
combination of sexton and beadle. He speaks with an authority more than his 
own, for when he calls "Jews to the bathhouse" he is summoning them to a 

The most vivid evocation of life in the shtetl is the surrealistic amalgam of fact and fantasy 
in the paintings and lithographs of Marc Chagall, where biblical symbols appear side by side 
with the bearded carter wielding his whip and wistful rabbis in kaftan and yarmolka. 

It was a weird community, reflecting its weird origins. Some of the earliest small-towns were 
probably founded by prisoners of war - such as the Karaites of Troki - whom Polish and 
Lithuanian nobles were anxious to settle on their empty lands. But the majority of these set- 
tlements were products of the general migration away from the "wild fields" which were turn- 
ing into deserts. "After the Mongol conquest", wrote Poliak, "when the Slav villages wandered 
westward, the Khazar shtetls went with them." 30 The pioneers of the new settlements were 
probably rich Khazar traders who constantly travelled across Poland on the much frequented 
trade routes into Hungary. "The Magyar and Kabar migration into Hungary blazed the trail for 
the growing Khazar settlements in Poland: it turned Poland into a transit area between the 
two countries with Jewish communities." 31 Thus the travelling merchants were familiar with 
conditions in the prospective areas of resettlement, and had occasion to make contact with 
the landowners in search of tenants. "The landlord would enter into an agreement with such 
rich and respected Jews" (we are reminded of Abraham Prokownik) "as would settle on his 
estate and bring in other settlers. They would, as a rule, choose people from the place where 
they had lived." 32 These colonists would be an assorted lot of farmers, artisans and crafts- 
men, forming a more or less self-supporting community. Thus the Khazar shtetl would be 
transplanted and become a Polish shtetl. Farming would gradually drop out, but by that time 
the adaptation to changed conditions would have been completed. 

The nucleus of modern J ewry thus followed the old recipe: strike out for new horizons but 
stick together. 



1 Baron, Vol. Ill, p. 206. 

2 Ibid., p. 212. 

3 Anonimi Gesta Hungarorum, quoted by Macartney, p. 188f. 

4 The Universal Jewish Encyclopaedia, article "Teka". 

5 Dunlop(1954), p. 262, 

6 Poliak, ch. IX. 

7 Baron, Vol. Ill, p. 206. 

8 Poliak, ch. IX. 

9 Poliak, ch. VII; Baron, Vol. Ill, p. 218 and note. 

10 Brutzkus, Jewish Enc. article "Chasaren". 

11 Schiper. quoted by Poliak. 

12 Poliak, ch. IX. 

13 Baron, Vol. Ill, p. 217 and note. 

14 Poliak, ch. IX. 

15 Ibid. 

16 Ibid. 

17 Quoted by Poliak, ch. IX. 

18 Zajaczkowski, quoted by Dunlop, p. 222. 

19 Veltulani. A. (1962)., p. 278. 

20 Poliak. op. cit,; Kutschera, H. (1910). 

21 Vetulani, p. 274. 

22 Vetulani, pp. 276-7; Baron, Vol. Ill, p. 218 and notes; Poliak, op. cit. 

23 Baron, Vol. Ill, p. 219. 

24 Poliak, ch. VII. 

25 Enc. Brit, 1973 printing, 'Yiddish Literature'. 

26 Op. cit, ch. 111. 

27 Ibid. 

28 Ibid. 

29 Zborowski, M., and Herzog, E. (1952), p. 41. 

30 Poliak, ch. III. 

31 Ibid., ch. VII. 

32 Ibid., ch. III. 


The Thirteenth Tribe 

Arthur Koestler 


Two basic facts emerge from our survey: the disappearance of the Khazar nation from its 
historic habitat, and the simultaneous appearance in adjacent regions to the north-west 
of the greatest concentration of Jews since the beginnings of the Diaspora. Since the 
two are obviously connected, historians agree that immigration from Khazaria must have con- 
tributed to the growth of Polish Jewry - a conclusion supported by the evidence cited in the 
previous chapters. But they feel less certain about the extent of this contribution -the size of 
the Khazar immigration compared with the influx of Western J ews, and their respective share 
in the genetic make-up of the modern Jewish community. 

In other words, the fact that Khazars emigrated in substantial numbers into Poland is 
established beyond dispute; the question is whether they provided the bulk of the new settle- 
ment, or only its hard core, as it were. To find an answer to this question, we must get some 
idea of the size of the immigration of "real J ews" from the West. 

Tbwards the end of the first millennium, the most important settlements of Western 
European J ews were in France and the Rhineland.* [Not counting the J ews of Spain, who 
formed a category apart and did not participate in the migratory movements with which 
we are concerned.] Some of these communities had probably been rounded in Roman days, 
for, between the destruction of J erusalem and the decline of the Roman Empire, J ews had set- 
tled in many of the greater cities under its rule, and were later on reinforced by immigrants 
from Italy and North Africa. Thus we have records from the ninth century onwards of Jewish 
communities in places all over France, from Normandy down to Provence and the 

One group even crossed the Channel to England in the wake of the Norman invasion, appar- 
ently invited by William the Conqueror, 1 because he needed their capital and enterprise. Their 
history has been summed up by Baron: 

They were subsequently converted into a class of "royal usurers" whose main 
function was to provide credits for both political and economic ventures. After 
accumulating great wealth through the high rate of interest, these moneylen- 
ders were forced to disgorge it in one form or another for the benefit of the 
royal treasury. The prolonged well-being of many Jewish families, the splendour 
of their residence and attire, and their influence on public affairs blinded even 
experienced observers to the deep dangers lurking from the growing resent- 
ment of debtors of all classes, and the exclusive dependence of Jews on the 
protection of their royal masters . . . Rumblings of discontent, culminating in 
violent outbreaks in 1189-90, presaged the final tragedy: the expulsion of 
1290. The meteoric rise, and even more rapid decline of English Jewry in the 
brief span of two and a quarter centuries (1066-1290) brought into sharp relief 
the fundamental factors shaping the destinies of all western J ewries in the cru- 
cial first half of the second millennium. 2 

The English example is instructive, because it is exceptionally well documented compared 
to the early history of the Jewish communities on the Continent. The main lesson we derive 
from it is that the social-economic influence of the J ews was quite out of proportion with their 
small numbers. There were, apparently, no more than 2500 Jews in England at any time 
before their expulsion in 1290.* [According to the classic survey of Joseph Jacobs, The Jews 
of Angevin England, based on recorded Jewish family names and other documents. [Quoted 
by Baron, Vol. IV, p. 77.]] This tiny Jewish community in mediaeval England played a leading 
part in the country's economic Establishment - much more so than its opposite number in 
Poland; yet in contrast to Poland it could not rely on a network of Jewish small-towns to pro- 
vide it with a mass-basis of humble craftsmen, of lower-middle-class artisans and workmen, 
carters and innkeepers; it had no roots in the people. On this vital issue, Angevin England 
epitomized developments on the Western Continent. The Jews of France and Germany faced 


the same predicament: their occupational stratification was lopsided and top-heavy. This led 
everywhere to the same, tragic sequence of events. The dreary tale always starts with a hon- 
eymoon, and ends in divorce and bloodshed. In the beginning the Jews are pampered with 
special charters, privileges, favours. They are personae gratae like the court alchemists, 
because they alone have the secret of how to keep the wheels of the economy turning. "In the 
'dark ages'," wrote Cecil Roth, "the commerce of Western Europe was largely in Jewish 
hands, not excluding the slave trade, and in the Carolingian cartularies Jew and Merchant are 
used as almost interchangeable terms." 3 But with the growth of a native mercantile class, 
they became gradually excluded not only from most productive occupations, but also from the 
traditional forms of commerce, and virtually the only field left open to them was lending capi- 
tal on interest. ". . . The floating wealth of the country was soaked up by the Jews, who were 
periodically made to disgorge into the exchequer . . ." 4 The archetype of Shylock was estab- 
lished long before Shakespeare's time. 

In the honeymoon days, Charlemagne had sent a historic embassy in 797 to Harun al- 
Rashid in Baghdad to negotiate a treaty of friendship; the embassy was composed of the J ew 
Isaac and two Christian nobles. The bitter end came when, in 1306, Philip le Bel expelled the 
Jews from the kingdom of France. Though later some were allowed to return, they suffered fur- 
ther persecution, and by the end of the century the French community of Jews was virtually 
extinct.*! The modern community of Jews in France and England was founded by refugees 
from the Spanish Inquisition in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.] 

If we turn to the history of German J ewry, the first fact to note is that "remarkably, we do not 
possess a comprehensive scholarly history of German J ewry . . . The Germanica J udaica is 
merely a good reference work to historic sources shedding light on individual communities 
up to 1238. " 5 It is a dim light, but at least it illuminates the territorial distribution of the 
Western-Jewish communities in Germany during the critical period when Khazar-Jewish immi- 
gration into Poland was approaching its peak. lOne of the earliest records of such a commu- 
nity in Germany mentions a certain Kalonymous, who, in 906, emigrated with his kinsfolk from 
Lucca in Italy to Mavence. About the same time we hear of Jews in Spires and Worms, and 
somewhat later in other places -Trves, Metz, Strasbourg, Cologne -all of them situated in a 
narrow strip in Alsace and along the Rhine valley. The Jewish traveller Benjamin of Tudela (see 
above, II, 8) visited the region in the middle of the twelfth century and wrote: "In these cities 
there are many Israelites, wise men and rich." 6 But how many are "many"? In fact veryfew, as 
will be seen. 

Earlier on, there lived in Mayence a certain Rabbi Gershom ben Yehuda (circa 960-1030) 
whose great learning earned him the title "Light of the Diaspora" and the position of spiritual 
head of the French and Rhenish-German community. At some date around 1020 Gershom 
convened a Rabbinical Council in Worms, which issued various edicts, including one that put a 
legal stop to polygamy (which had anyway been in abeyance for a long time). To these edicts a 
codicil was added, which provided that in case of urgency any regulation could be revoked "by 
an assembly of a hundred delegates from the countries Burgundy, Normandy, France, and the 
towns of Mayence, Spires and Worms". In other rabbinical documents too, dating from the 
same period, only these three towns are named, and we can only conclude that the other 
Jewish communities in the Rhineland were at the beginning of the eleventh century still too 
insignificant to be mentioned. 7 By the end of the same century, the Jewish communities of 
Germany narrowly escaped complete extermination in the outbursts of mob-hysteria accom- 
panying the First Crusade, AD 1096. F. Barker has conveyed the crusader's mentality with a 
dramatic force rarely encountered in the columns of the Encyclopaedia Britannica: 8 

He might butcher all, till he waded ankle-deep in blood, and then at nightfall 
kneel, sobbing for very joy, at the altar of the Sepulchre - for was he not red 
from the winepress of the Lord? 

The J ews of the Rhineland were caught in that winepress, which nearly squeezed them to 
death. Moreover, they themselves became affected by a different type of mass hysteria: a 
morbid yearning for martyrdom. According to the Hebrew chronicler Solomon bar Simon, con- 
sidered as generally reliable, 9 the Jews of Mayence, faced with the alternative between bap- 
tism or death at the hands of the mob, gave the example to other communities by deciding on 
collective suicide: 10 

Imitating on a grand scale Abraham's readiness to sacrifice Isaac, fathers 
slaughtered their children and husbands their wives. These acts of unspeak- 
able horror and heroism were performed in the ritualistic form of slaughter with 
sacrificial knives sharpened in accordance with Jewish law. At times the lead- 
ing sages of the community, supervising the mass immolation, were the last to 
part with life at their own hands . . . In the mass hysteria, sanctified by the glow 
of religious martyrdom and compensated by the confident expectation of heav- 
enly rewards, nothing seemed to matter but to end life before one fell into 
the hands of the implacable foes and had to face the inescapable alternative 
of death at the enemy's hand or conversion to Christianity. 


Turning from gore to sober statistics, we get a rough idea of the size of the J ewish commu- 
nities in Germany. The Hebrew sources agree on 800 victims (by slaughter or suicide) in 
Worms, and vary between 900 and 1300 for Mayence. Of course there must have been many 
who preferred baptism to death, and the sources do not indicate the number of survivors; nor 
can we be sure that they do not exaggerate the number of martyrs. At any rate, Baron con- 
cludes from his calculations that "the total J ewish population of either community had hardly 
exceeded the figures here given for the dead alone". 11 So the survivors in Worms or in 
Mayence could only have numbered a few hundred in each case. Yet these two towns (with 
Spires as a third) were the only ones important enough to be included in Rabbi Gershom's 
edict earlier on. 

Thus we are made to realize that the Jewish community in the German Rhineland was 
numerically small, even before the First Crusade, and had shrunk to even smaller proportions 
after having gone through the winepress of the Lord. Yet cast of the Rhine, in central and 
northern Germany, there were as yet no J ewish communities at all, and none for a long time to 
come. The traditional conception of Jewish historians that the Crusade of 1096 swept like a 
broom a mass-migration of German J ews into Poland is simply a legend - or rather an ad hoc 
hypothesis invented because, as they knew little of Khazar history, they could see no other 
way to account for the emergence, out of nowhere, of this unprecedented concentration of 
J ews in Eastern Europe. Yet there is not a single mention in the contemporary sources of any 
migration, large or small, from the Rhineland further east into Germany, not to mention distant 
Poland. .Thus Simon Dubnov, one of the historians of the older school: "The first crusade 
which set the Christian masses in motion towards the Asiatic east, drove at the same time 
the J ewish masses towards the cast of Europe." 12 However, a few lines further down he has 
to admit: "About the circumstances of this emigration movement which was so important to 
J ewish history we possess no close information." 13 Yet we do possess abundant information 
of what these battered Jewish communities did during the first and subsequent crusades. 
Some died by their own hands; others tried to offer resistance and were lynched; while those 
who survived owed their good fortune to the fact that they were given shelter for the duration 
of the emergency in the fortified castle of the Bishop or Burgrave who, at least theoretically, 
was responsible for their legal protection. Frequently this measure was not enough to prevent 
a massacre; but the survivors, once the crusading hordes had passed, invariably returned to 
their ransacked homes and synagogues to make a fresh start. 

We find this pattern repeatedly in chronicles: in Treves, in Metz, and many other places. By 
the time of the second and later crusades, it had become almost a routine: "At the beginning 
of the agitation for a new crusade many Jews of Mayence, Worms, Spires, Strasbourg, 
Wrzburg and other cities, escaped to neighbouring castles, leaving their books and precious 
possessions in the custody of friendly burghers." 14 One of the main sources is the Book of 
Remembrance by Ephraim bar Jacob, who himself, at the age of thirteen, had been among the 
refugees from Cologne in the castle of Wolkenburg. 15 Solomon bar Simon reports that during 
the second crusade the survivors of the Mayence Jews found protection in Spires, then 
returned to their native city and built a new synagogue. 16 This is the leitmotif of the 
Chronicles; to repeat it once more, there is not a word about J ewish communities emigrating 
toward eastern Germany, which, in the words of Mieses, 17 was still Judenrein -clean of Jews - 
and was to remain so for several centuries. 

The thirteenth century was a period of partial recovery. We hear for the first time of Jews 
in regions adjacent to the Rhineland: the Palatinate (AD 1225); Freiburg (1230), Ulm 
(1243), Heidelberg (1255), etc. 18 But it was to be only a short respite, for the fourteenth 
century brought new disasters to Franco-German J ewry. 

The first catastrophe was the expulsion of all J ews from the royal domains of Philip le Bel. 
France had been suffering from an economic crisis, to the usual accompaniments of debased 
currency and social unrest. Philip tried to remedy it by the habitual method of soaking the 
Jews. He exacted from them payments of 100000 livres in 1292, 215000 livres in 1295, 
1299, 1302 and 1305, then decided on a radical remedy for his ailing finances. On June 21, 
1306, he signed a secret order to arrest all Jews in his kingdom on a given day, confiscate 
their property and expel them from the country. The arrests were carried out on J uly 22, and 
the expulsion a few weeks later. The refugees emigrated into regions of France outside the 
King's domain: Provence, Burgundy, Aquitaine, and a few other frudal fiefs. But, according to 
Mieses, "there are no historical records whatsoever to indicate that German Jewry increased 
its numbers through the sufferings of the Jewish community in France in the decisive period 
of its destruction". 19 And no historian has ever suggested that French Jews trekked across 
Germany into Poland, either on that occasion or at any other time. lUnder Philip's successors 
there were some partial recalls of J ews (in 1315 and 1350), but they could not undo the dam- 
age, nor prevent renewed outbursts of mob persecution. By the end of the fourteenth century, 
France, like England, was virtually J udenrein. 


I tr 

e second catastrophe of that disastrous century was the Black Death, which, between 
1348 and 1350, killed off a third of Europe's population, and in some regions even two- 
thirds. It came from east Asia via Turkestan, and the way it was let loose on Europe, and 


what it did there, is symbolic of the lunacy of man. A Tartar leader named Janibeg in 1347 
was besieging the town of Kaffa (now Feodosia) in the Crimea, then a Genoese trading port. 
The plague was rampant in Janibeg's army, so he catapulted the corpses of infected victims 
into the town, whose population became infected in its turn. Genoese ships carried the rats 
and their deadly fleas westward into the Mediterranean ports, from where they spread inland. 

The bacilli of Pasteurella pestis were not supposed to make a distinction between the vari- 
ous denominations, yet Jews were nevertheless singled out for special treatment. After being 
accused earlier on of the ritual slaughter of Christian children, they were now accused of poi- 
soning the wells to spread the Black Death. The legend travelled faster even than the rats, 
and the consequence was the burning of Jews en masse all over Europe. Once more suicide 
by mutual self-immolation became a common expedient, to avoid being burned alive. 

The decimated population of Western Europe did not reach again its pre-plague level until 
the sixteenth century. As for its J ews, who had been exposed to the twofold attack of rats and 
men. only a fraction survived. As Kutschera wrote: 

The populace avenged on them the cruel blows of destiny and set upon those 
whom the plague had spared with fire and sword. When the epidemics 
receded, Germany, according to contemporary historians, was left virtually with- 
out Jews. We are led to conclude that in Germany itself the Jews could not 
prosper, and were never able to establish large and populous communities. 
How, then, in these circumstances, should they have been able to lay the foun- 
dations in Poland of a mass population so dense that at present [AD 1909] it 
outnumbers the Jews of Germany at the rate often to one? It is indeed difficult 
to understand how the idea ever gained ground that the eastern Jews repre- 
sent immigrants from the West, and especially from Germany 20 

Yet, next to the first crusade, the Black Death is most frequently invoked by historians as 
the deus ex machina which created Eastern J ewry. And, just as in the case of the crusades, 
there is not a shred of evidence for this imaginary exodus. On the contrary, the indications are 
that the J ews' only hope of survival on this, as on that earlier occasions, was to stick together 
and seek shelter in some fortified place or less hostile surroundings in the vicinity. There is 
only one case of an emigration in the Black Death period mentioned by Mieses: Jews from 
Spires took refuge from persecution in Heidelberg -about ten miles away. 

After the virtual extermination of the old J ewish communities in France and Germany in the 
wake of the Black Death, Western Europe remained J udenrein for a couple of centuries, with 
only a few enclaves vegetating on -except in Spain. It was an entirely different stock of Jews 
who founded the modern communities of England, France and Holland in the sixteenth and 
seventeenth centuries -the Sephardim (Spanish Jews), forced to flee from Spain where they 
had been resident for more than a millennium. Their history - and the history of modern 
European J ewry - lies outside the scope of this book. 

We may safely conclude that the traditional idea of a mass-exodus of Western J ewry from 
the Rhineland to Poland all across Germany -a hostile, J ewless glacis -is historically unten- 
able. It is incompatible with the small size of the Rhenish Communities, their reluctance to 
branch out from the Rhine valley towards the east, their stereotyped behaviour in adversity, 
and the absence of references to migratory movements in contemporary chronicles. Further 
evidence for this view is provided by linguistics, to be discussed in Chapter VII. 



1 According to William of Malmesbury's De gestis regum Anglorum, quoted by Baron, Vol, 
IV, p. 277. 

2 Baron, Vol. IV, pp. 75-6. 

3 Quoted by Baron, Vol. IV, p. 77. 

4 Roth, C. (1973). 

5 Roth, loc. cit. 

6 Baron, Vol. IV, p. 271. 

7 Ibid., p. 73. 

8 Kutschera, p. 233. 

9 14th ed., VI, p. 772, article 'Crusades'. 

10 Baron. Vol. IV, p. 97. 

11 Ibid., p. 104. 

12 Ibid., pp. 105, 292n. 

13 Dubnov, S. (1926), p. 427. 

14 Ibid., p. 428. 

15 Baron, Vol. IV, p. 129. 

16 Ibid., p. 119. 

17 Ibid., p. 116. 

18 Mieses, M. (1924), p. 275. 

19 Ibid., pp. 274-5. 

20 Ibid., p. 273. 

21 Kutschera, pp. 235-6, 241. 


The Thirteenth Tribe 

Arthur Koestler 


ON the evidence quoted in previous chapters, one can easily understand why Polish his- 
torians - who are, after all, closest to the sources - are in agreement that "in earlier 
times, the main bulk of the Jewish population originated from the Khazar country". 1 One 
might even be tempted to overstate the case by claiming - as Kutschera does - that Eastern 
J ewry was a hundred per cent of Khazar origin. Such a claim might be tenable if the ill-fated 
Franco-Rhenish community were the only rival in the search for paternity. But in the later 
Middle Ages things become more complicated by the rise and fall of Jewish settlements all 
over the territories of the former Austro-Hungarian monarchy, and the Balkans. Thus not only 
Vienna and Prague had a considerable Jewish population, but there are no less than five 
places called Judendorf, "Jew-village", in the Carinthian Alps, and more Judenburgs and 
Judenstadts in the mountains of Styria. By the end of the fifteenth century, the Jews were 
expelled from both provinces, and went to Italy, Poland and Hungary; but where did they origi- 
nally come from? Certainly not from the West. As Mieses put it in his survey of these scat- 
tered communities: 

During the high Middle Ages we thus find in the east a chain of settlements 
stretching from Bavaria to Persia, the Causcasus, Asia Minor and Byzantium. 
[But] westward from Bavaria there is a gap through the whole length of 
Germany ... Just how this immigration of Jews into the Alpine regions came 
about we do not know, but without doubt the three great reservoirs of Jews 
from late antiquity played their part: Italy, Byzantium and Persia. 2 

The missing link in this enumeration is, once again, Khazaria, which, as we have seen ear- 
lier on, served as a receptacle and transit-station for Jews emigrating from Byzantium and the 
Caliphate. Mieses has acquired great merit in refuting the legend of the Rhenish origin of 
Eastern Jewry, but he, too, knew little of Khazar history, and was unaware of its demographic 
importance. However, he may have been right in suggesting an Italian component among the 
immigrants to Austria. Italy was not only quasi-saturated with Jews since Roman times, but, 
like Khazaria, also received its share of immigrants from Byzantium. So here we might have a 
trickle of "genuine" Jews of Semitic origin into Eastern Europe; yet it could not have been 
more than a trickle, for there is no trace in the records of any substantial immigration of 
Italian Jews into Austria, whereas there is plenty of evidence of a reverse migration of Jews 
into Italy after their expulsion from the Alpine provinces at the end of the fifteenth century. 
Details like this tend to blur the picture, and make one wish that the J ews had gone to Poland 
on board the Mayflower, with all the records neatly kept. 

Yet the broad outlines of the migratory process are nevertheless discernible. The Alpine 
settlements were in all likelihood westerly offshoots of the general Khazar migration toward 
Poland, which was spread over several centuries and followed several different routes - 
through the Ukraine, the Slavonic regions north of Hungary, perhaps also through the 
Balkans. A Rumanian legend tells of an invasion -the date unknown -of armed Jews into that 
country. 3 

There is another, very curious legend relating to the history of Austrian Jewry. It was 
launched by Christian chroniclers in the Middle Ages, but was repeated in all seriousness 
by historians as late as the beginning of the eighteenth century. In pre-Christian days, so 
the legend goes, the Austrian provinces were ruled by a succession of Jewish princes. The 
Austrian Chronicle, compiled by a Viennese scribe in the reign of Albert 111(1350-95) contains 
a list of no less than twenty-two such Jewish princes, who are said to have succeeded each 
other. The list gives not only their alleged names, some of which have a distinctly Ural-Altaian 
ring, but also the length of their rule and the place where they are buried; thus: "Sennan, 
ruled 45 years, buried at the Stubentor in Vienna; Zippan, 43 years, buried in Tulln"; and so 
on, including names like Lapton, Ma'alon, Raptan, Rabon, Effra, Sameck, etc. After these 
J ews came five pagan princes, followed by Christian rulers. The legend is repeated, with some 
variations, in the Latin histories of Austria by Henricus Gundelfingus, 1474, and by several oth- 
ers, the last one being Anselmus Schram's Flores Chronicorum Austriae, 1702 (who still 
seems to have believed in its authenticity). 4 .How could this fantastic tale have originated? 


Let us listen to Mieses again: "The very fact that such a legend could develop and stubbornly 
maintain itself through several centuries, indicates that deep in the national consciousness 
of ancient Austria dim memories persisted of a Jewish presence in the lands on the upper 
Danube in bygone days. Who knows whether the tidal waves emanating from the Khazar 
dominions in Eastern Europe once swept into the foothills of the Alps -which would explain 
the Turanian flavour of the names of those princes. The confabulations of mediaeval chroni- 
clers could evoke a popular echo only if they were supported by collective 

recollections, however vague." 5 

As already mentioned, Mieses is rather inclined to underestimate the Khazar contribution to 
J ewish history, but even so he hit on the only plausible hypothesis which could explain the ori- 
gin of the persistent legend. One may even venture to be a little more specific. For more than 
half a century - up to AD 955 - Austria, as far west as the river Enns, was under Hungarian 
domination. The Magyars had arrived in their new country in 896, together with the Kabar- 
Khazar tribes who were influential in the nation. The Hungarians at the time were not yet con- 
verted to Christianity (that happened only a century later, AD 1000) and the only monotheistic 
religion familiar to them was Khazar Judaism. There may have been one or more tribal chief- 
tains among them who practised a J udaism of sorts - we remember the Byzantine chronicler, 
John Cinnamus, mentioning Jewish troops fighting in the Hungarian army.*[See above, V, 2.] 
Thus there may have been some substance to the legend - particularly if we remember that 
the Hungarians were still in their savage raiding period, the scourge of Europe. To be under 
their dominion was certainly a traumatic experience which the Austrians were unlikely to for- 
get. It all fits rather nicely. 

Further evidence against the supposedly Franco-Rhenish origin of Eastern Jewry is pro- 
vided by the structure of Yiddish, the popular language of the J ewish masses, spoken by 
millions before the holocaust, and still surviving among traditionalist minorities in the 
Soviet Union and the United States. 

Yiddish is a curious amalgam of Hebrew, mediaeval German, Slavonic and other elements, 
written in Hebrew characters. Now that it is dying out, it has become a subject of much acad- 
emic research in the United States and Israel, but until well into the twentieth century it was 
considered by Western linguists as merely an odd jargon, hardly worth serious study. As H. 
Smith remarked: 

"Little attention has been paid to Yiddish by scholars. Apart from a few articles 
in periodicals, the first really scientific study of the language was Mieses' s 
Historical Grammar published in 1924. It is significant that the latest edition of 
the standard historical grammar of German, which treats German from the 
point of view of its dialects, dismisses Yiddish in twelve lines." 6 

At first glance the prevalence of German loanwords in Yiddish seems to contradict our main 
thesis on the origins of Eastern Jewry; we shall see presently that the opposite is true, but 
the argument involves several steps. The first is to inquire what particular kind of regional 
German dialect went into the Yiddish vocabulary. Nobody before Mieses seems to have paid 
serious attention to this question; it is to his lasting merit to have done so, and to have come 
up with a conclusive answer. Based on the study of the vocabulary, phonetics and syntax of 
Yiddish as compared with the main German dialects in the Middle Ages, he concludes: 

Wo linguistic components derived from the parts of Germany bordering on 
France are found in the Yiddish language. Not a single word from the entire list 
of specifically Moselle-Franconian origin compiled by J. A. Ballas (Beitrge zur 
Kunntnis derTrierischen Volkssprache, 1903, 28ff.) has found its way into the 
Yiddish vocabulary. Even the more central regions of Western Germany, around 
Frankfurt, have not contributed to the Yiddish language.... 7 Insofar as the ori- 
gins of Yiddish are concerned, Western Germany can be written off.... 8 Could it 
be that the generally accepted view, according to which the German Jews once 
upon a time immigrated from France across the Rhine, is misconceived? The 
history of the German Jews, of Ashkenazi* [For " Ashkenazi" see below, VIII, I] 
Jewry, must be revised. The errors of history are often rectified by linguistic 
research. The conventional view of the erstwhile immigration of Ashkenazi J ews 
from France belongs to the category of historic errors which are awaiting cor- 
rection. 9 

He then quotes, among other examples of historic fallacies, the case of the Gypsies, who 
were regarded as an offshoot from Egypt, "until linguistics showed that they come from 
India". 10 

Having disposed of the alleged Western origin of the Germanic element in Yiddish, Mieses 
went on to show that the dominant influence in it are the so-called "East-Middle German" 
dialects which were spoken in the Alpine regions of Austria and Bavaria roughly up to the fif- 
teenth century. In other words, the German component which went into the hybrid J ewish lan- 
guage originated in the eastern regions of Germany, adjacent to the Slavonic belt of Eastern 


Thus the evidence from linguistics supports the historical record in refuting the misconcep- 
tion of the Franco-Rhenish origins of Eastern Jewry. But this negative evidence does not 
answer the question how an East-Middle German dialect combined with Hebrew and Slavonic 
elements became the common language of that Eastern Jewry, the majority of which we 
assume to have been of Khazar origin. 

In attempting to answer this question, several factors have to be taken into consideration. 
First, the evolution of Yiddish was a long and complex process, which presumably started in 
the fifteenth century or even earlier; yet it remained for a long time a spoken language, a kind 
of lingua franca, and appears in print only in the nineteenth century. Before that, it had no 
established grammar, and "it was left to the individual to introduce foreign words as he 
desires. There is no established form of pronunciation or spelling . . . The chaos in spelling 
maybe illustrated by the rules laid down by the J udische Volks- Bibliothek: 

(1) Write as you speak; 

(2) write so that both Polish and Lithuanian Jews may understand you, and; 

(3) spell differently words of the same sound which have a different signification." 11 

Thus Yiddish grew, through the centuries, by a kind of untrammelled proliferation, avidly 
absorbing from its social environments such words, phrases, idiomatic expressions as best 
served its purpose as a lingua franca. But the culturally and socially dominant element in the 
environment of mediaeval Poland were the Germans. They alone, among the immigrant popu- 
lations, were economically and intellectually more influential than the Jews. We have seen 
that from the early days of the Piast dynasty, and particularly under Casimir the Great, every- 
thing was done to attract immigrants to colonize the land and build "modern" cities. Casimir 
was said to have "found a country of wood and left a country of stone". But these new cities 
of stone, such as Krakau (Cracow) or Lemberg (Lwow) were built and ruled by German immi- 
grants, living under the so-called Magdeburg law, i.e., enjoying a high degree or municipal self- 
government. Altogether not less than four million Germans are said to have immigrated into 
Poland, 12 providing it with an urban middleclass that it had not possessed before. As Poliak 
has put it, comparing the German to the Khazar immigration into Poland: "the rulers of the 
country imported these masses of much-needed enterprising foreigners, and facilitated their 
settling down according to the way of life they had been used to in their countries of origin: 
the German town and the Jewish shtetl". (However, this tidy separation became blurred when 
later J ewish arrivals from the West also settled in the towns and formed urban ghettoes.) .Not 
only the educated bourgeoisie, but the clergy too, was predominantly German - a natural con- 
sequence of Poland opting for Roman Catholicism and turning toward Western civilization, just 
as the Russian clergy after Vladimir's conversion to Greek orthodoxy was predominantly 
Byzantine. Secular culture followed along the same lines, in the footsteps of the older 
Western neighbour. The first Polish university was founded in 1364 in Cracow, then a predom- 
inantly German city*[0ne of its students in the next century was Nicolaus Copernicus or 
Mikolaj Koppernigk whom both Polish and German patriots later claimed as their national.] As 
Kutschera, the Austrian, has put it, rather smugly: 

The German colonists were at first regarded by the people with suspicion and 
distrust; yet they succeeded in gaining an increasingly firm foothold, and even 
in introducing the German educational system. The Poles learnt to appreciate 
the advantages of the higher culture introduced by the Germans and to imitate 
their foreign ways. The Polish aristocracy, too, grew fond of German customs 
and found beauty and pleasure in whatever came from Germany 13 

Not exactly modest, but essentially true. One remembers the high esteem for German 
Kultur among nineteenth-century Russian intellectuals. 

It is easy to see why Khazar immigrants pouring into mediaeval Poland had to learn German 
if they wanted to get on. Those who had close dealings with the native populace no doubt 
also had to learn some pidgin Polish (or Lithuanian, or Ukrainian or Slovene); German, how- 
ever, was a prime necessity in any contact with the towns. But there was also the synagogue 
and the study of the Hebrew thorah. One can visualize a shtetl craftsman, a cobbler perhaps, 
or a timber merchant, speaking broken German to his clients, broken Polish to the serfs on 
the estate next door; and at home mixing the most expressive bits of both with Hebrew into a 
kind of intimate private language. How this hotchpotch became communalized and standard- 
ized to the extent to which it did, is any linguist's guess; but at least one can discern some 
further factors which facilitated the process. 

Among the later immigrants to Poland there were also, as we have seen, a certain number 
of "real" J ews from the Alpine countries, Bohemia and eastern Germany. Even if their number 
was relatively small, these German-speaking J ews were superior in culture and learning to the 
Khazars, just as the German Gentiles were culturally superior to the Poles. And just as the 
Catholic clergy was German, so the J ewish rabbis from the West were a powerful factor in the 
Germanization of the Khazars, whose Judaism was fervent but primitive. To quote Poliak 

Those German Jews who reached the kingdom of Poland-Lithuania had an 


enormous influence on their brethren from the east. The reason why the 
[Khazar] J ews were so strongly attracted to them was that they admired their 
religious learning and their efficiency in doing business with the predominantly 
German cities.... The language spoken at the Heder, the school for religious 
teaching, and at the house of the Ghevir [notable, rich man] would influence 
the language of the whole community 14 

A rabbinical tract from seventeenth-century Poland contains the pious wish: 

"May God will that the country be filled with wisdom and that all Jews speak 
German." 15 . 

Characteristically, the only sector among the Khazarian J ews in Poland which resisted both 
the spiritual and worldly temptations offered by the German language were the Karaites, who 
rejected both rabbinical learning and material enrichment. Thus they never took to Yiddish. 
According to the first all-Russian census in 1897, there were 12894 Karaite Jews living in the 
Tsarist Empire (which, of course, included Poland). Of these 9666 gave Turkish as their 
mother tongue (i.e., presumably their original Khazar dialect), 2632 spoke Russian, and only 
383 spoke Yiddish. 

The Karaite sect, however, represents the exception rather than the rule. In general, immi- 
grant populations settling in a new country tend to shed their original language within two or 
three generations and adopt the language of their new country* [This does not, of course, 
apply to conquerors and colonizers, who impose their own language on the natives.] The 
American grandchildren of immigrants from Eastern Europe never learn to speak Polish or 
Ukrainian, and find the jabber-wocky of their grandparents rather comic. It is difficult to see 
how historians could ignore the evidence for the Khazar migration into Poland on the grounds 
that more than half a millennium later they speak a different language. 

Incidentally, the descendants of the biblical Tribes are the classic example of linguistic 
adaptability. First they spoke Hebrew; in the Babylonian exile, Chaldean; at the time of Jesus, 
Aramaic; in Alexandria, Greek; in Spain, Arabic, but later Ladino - a Spanish-Hebrew mixture, 
written in Hebrew characters, the Sephardi equivalent of Yiddish; and so it goes on. They pre- 
served their religious identity, but changed languages at their convenience. The Khazars were 
not descended from the Tribes, but, as we have seen, they shared a certain cosmopolitanism 
and other social characteristics with their co-religionists. 

Poliak has proposed an additional hypothesis concerning the early origins of Yiddish, 
which deserves to be mentioned, though it is rather problematical. He thinks that the 
"shape of early Yiddish emerged in the Gothic regions of the Khazar Crimea. In those 
regions the conditions of life were bound to bring about a combination of Germanic and 
Hebrew elements hundreds of years before the foundation of the settlements in the 
Kingdoms of Poland and Lithuania." 16 

Poliak quotes as indirect evidence a certain J oseph Barbara of Venice, who lived in Tana (an 
Italian merchant colony on the Don estuary) from 1436 to 1452, and who wrote that his 
German servant could converse with a Goth from the Crimea just as a Florentine could under- 
stand the language of an Italian from Genoa. As a matter of fact, the Gothic language sur- 
vived in the Crimea (and apparently nowhere else) at least to the middle of the sixteenth 
century. At that time the Habsburg ambassador in Constantinople, Ghiselin de Busbeck, met 
people from the Crimea, and made a list of words from the Gothic that they spoke. (This 
Busbeck must have been a remarkable man, for it was he who first introduced the lilac and 
tulip from the Levant to Europe.) Poliak considers this vocabulary to be close to the Middle 
High German elements found in Yiddish. He thinks the Crimean Goths kept contact with other 
Germanic tribes and that their language was influenced by them. Whatever one may think of 
it, it is a hypothesis worth the linguist's attention. 


"In a sense," wrote Cecil Roth, "the Jewish dark ages may be said to begin with the 
Renaissance." 17 .Earlier on, there had been massacres and other forms of persecution during 
the crusades, the Black Death, and under other pretexts; but these had been lawless out- 
breaks of massviolence, actively opposed or passively tolerated by the authorities. From the 
beginnings of the Counter-Reformation, however, the Jews were legally degraded to not-quite- 
human status, in many respects comparable to the Untouchables in the Hindu caste system. 

"The few communities suffered to remain in Western Europe - i.e., in Italy, Germany, and the 
papal possessions in southern France - were subjected at last to all the restrictions which 
earlier ages had usually allowed to remain an ideal" 18 - i.e., which had existed on ecclesiasti- 
cal and other decrees, but had remained on paper (as, for instance, in Hungary, see above, V, 
2). Now, however, these "ideal" ordinances were ruthlessly enforced: residential segregation, 
sexual apartheid, exclusion from all respected positions and occupations; wearing of distinc- 
tive clothes: yellow badge and conical headgear. In 1555 Pope Paul IV in his bull cum nimis 
absurdum insisted on the strict and consistent enforcement of earlier edicts, confining J ews 
to closed ghettoes. A year later the J ews of Rome were forcibly transferred. All Catholic coun- 
tries, where Jews still enjoyed relative freedom of movement, had to follow the example. 


In Poland, the honeymoon period inaugurated by Casimirthe Great had lasted longer than 
elsewhere, but by the end of the sixteenth century it had run its course. The J ewish communi- 
ties, now confined to shtetl and ghetto, became overcrowded, and the refugees from the 
Cossack massacres in the Ukrainian villages under Chmelnicky (see above, V, 5) led to a rapid 
deterioration of the housing situation and economic conditions. The result was a new wave of 
massive emigration into Hungary, Bohemia, "Rumania and Germany, where the Jews who had 
all but vanished with the Black Death were still thinly spread. .Thus the great trek to the West 
was resumed. It was to continue through nearly three centuries until the Second World War, 
and became the principal source of the existing Jewish communities in Europe, the United 
States and Israel. When its rate of flow slackened, the pogroms of the nineteenth century pro- 
vided a new impetus. "The second Western movement," writes Roth (dating the first from the 
destruction of Jerusalem), "which continued into the twentieth century, may be said to begin 
with the deadly Chmelnicky massacres of 164849 in Poland." 19 

The evidence quoted in previous chapters adds up to a strong case in favour of those 
modern historians - whether Austrian, Israeli or Polish who, independently from each 
other, have argued that the bulk of modern J ewry is not of Palestinian, but of Caucasian 
origin. The mainstream of Jewish migrations did not flow from the Mediterranean across 
France and Germany to the east and then back again. The stream moved in a consistently 
westerly direction, from the Caucasus through the Ukraine into Poland and thence into Central 
Europe. When that unprecedented mass-settlement in Poland came into beng, there were 
simply not enough J ews around in the west to account for it; while in the east a whole nation 
was on the move to new frontiers. .It would of course be foolish to deny that J ews of different 
origin also contributed to the existing Jewish world-community. The numerical ratio of the 
Khazar to the Semitic and other contributions is impossible to establish. But the cumulative 
evidence makes one inclined to agree with the concensus of Polish historians that "in earlier 
times the main bulk originated from the Khazar country"; and that, accordingly, the Khazar 
contribution to the genetic make-up of the Jews must be substantial, and in all likelihood dom- 




Vetulani, loc. Cit. 


Mieses, pp. 291-2. 


Jewish Enc.Vol. X, p. 512. 


Fuhrmann (1737), quoted by Mieses, p. 2,79 


Mieses, loc. cit, 


Smith, H., Proc. V, pp. 65f. 


Mieses, p. 211. 


Ibid., p. 269. 


Ibid., p. 272. 


Ibid., p. 272. 


Smith, op. cit, p. 66, 


Kutschera, p. 244. 


Kutschera, p. 2.43. 


Poliak, ch. IX. 


Quoted by Poliak, loc. cit. 


Poliak, loc. cit. 


Roth, loc. cit. 


Roth, loc. cit. 




The Thirteenth Tribe 

Arthur koestler 


THE Jews of our times fall into two main divisions: Sephardim and Ashkenazim. The 
Sephardim are descendants of the Jews who since antiquity had lived in Spain (in 
Hebrew Sepharad) until they were expelled at the end of the fifteenth century and settled 
in the countries bordering on the Mediterranean, the Balkans, and to a lesser extent in 
Western Europe. They spoke a Spanish-Hebrew dialect, Ladino (see VII, 3), and preserved 
their own traditions and religious rites. In the 1960s, the number of Sephardim was esti- 
mated at 500000. 

The Ashkenazim, at the same period, numbered about eleven million. Thus, in common par- 
lance, J ew is practically synonymous with Ashkenazi J ew. But the term is misleading, for the 
Hebrew word Ashkenaz was, in mediaeval rabbinical literature, applied to Germany -thus con- 
tributing to the legend that modern J ewry originated on the Rhine. There is, however, no other 
term to refer to the non-Sephardic majority of contemporaryj ewry. 

For the sake of piquantry it should be mentioned that the Ashkenaz of the Bible refers to a 
people living somewhere in the vicinity of Mount Ararat and Armenia. The name occurs in 
Genesis 10, 3 and I Chronciles 1, 6, as one of the sons of Gomer, who was a son of Japheth. 
Ashkenaz is also a brother of Togarmah (and a nephew of Magog) whom the Khazars, accord- 
ing to King Joseph, claimed as their ancestor (see above II, 5) But worse was to come. For 
Ashkenaz is also named in Jeremiah 51, 27, where the prophet calls his people and their 
allies to rise and destroy Babylon: 

"Call thee upon the kingdoms of Ararat, Minni and Ashkenaz." 

This passage was interpreted by the famous Saadiah Gaon, spiritual leader of Oriental 
Jewry in the tenth century, as a prophecy relating to his own times: Babylon symbolized the 
Caliphate of Baghdad, and the Ashkenaz who were to attack it were either the Khazars them- 
selves or some allied tribe. Accordingly, says Poliak, 1 some learned Khazarjews, who heard 
of the Gaon's ingenious arguments, called themselves Ashkenazim when they emigrated to 
Poland. It does not prove anything, but it adds to the confusion. 

Q umming up a very old and bitter controversy in a laconic paragraph, Raphael Patai wrote: 2 

The findings of physical anthropology show that, contrary to popular view, there 
is no Jewish race. Anthropometric measurements of Jewish groups in many 
parts of the world indicate that they differ greatly from one another with respect 
to all the important physical characteristics - stature, weight, skin colour, 
cephalic index, facial index, blood groups, etc. 

This indeed is the accepted view today among anthropologists and historians. Moreover, 
there is general agreement that comparisons of cranial indices, blood types, etc., show a 
greater similarity between Jews and their Gentile host-nation than between Jews living in dif- 
ferent countries. 

Yet, paradoxically, the popular belief that Jews, or at least certain types of Jews, can be 
instantly recognized as such, must not be dismissed out of hand - for the simple reason that 
it has a factual basis in every-day existence. The anthropologists' evidence seems to be at 
loggerheads with common observation. 

However, before attempting to tackle the apparent contradiction, it will be useful to look at a 
few samples of the data on which the anthropologists' denial of a Jewish race is based. To 
start with, here is a quotation from the excellent series of booklets on The Race Question in 
Modern Science published by UNESCO. The author, Professor Juan Comas, draws the follow- 
ing conclusion from the statistical material (his italics): 


Thus despite the view usually held, the Jewish people is racially heteroge- 
neous; its constant migrations and its relations - voluntary or otherwise - with 
the widest variety of nations and peoples have brought about such a degree of 
crossbreeding that the spoiled people of Israel can produce examples of 
traits typical of every people . For proof it will suffice to compare the rubicund, 
sturdy, heavily-built Rotterdam Jew with his co-religionist, say, in Salonika with 
gleaming eyes in a sickly face and skinny, high-strung physique. Hence, so far 
as our knowledge goes, we can assert that Jews as a whole display as great a 
degree of morphological disparity among themselves as could be found 
between members of two or more different races. 3 

Next, we must glance at some of the physical characteristics which anthropologists use as 
criteria, and on which Comas's conclusions are based. 

One of the simplest - and as it turned out, most naive - of these criteria was bodily stature. 
In The Races of Europe, a monumental work published in 1900, William Ripley wrote: 

"The European Jews are all undersized; not only this, they are more often 
absolutely stunted." 4 

He was up to a point right at the time, and he produced ample statistics to prove it. But he 
was shrewd enough to surmise that this deficiency in height might somehow be influenced by 
environmental factors. 5 Eleven years later, Maurice Fishberg published The Jews -A Study of 
Race and Environment, the first anthropological survey of its kind in English. It revealed the 
surprising fact that the children of East European Jewish immigrants to the USA grew to an 
average height of 167.9 cm. compared to the 164.2 cm. averaged by their parents - a gain of 
nearly an inch and a half in a single generation. 6 Since then it has become a commonplace 
that the descendants of immigrant populations -whether Jews, Italians or Japanese -are con- 
siderably taller than their parents, no doubt owing to their improved diet and other environ- 
mental factors. 

Fishberg then collected statistics comparing the average height of Jews and Gentiles in 
Poland, Austria, Rumania, Hungary, and so on. The result again was a surprise. In general it 
was found that the stature of the Jews varied with the stature of the non Jewish population 
among which they lived. They were relatively tall where the indigenous population is tall, and 
vice versa. Moreover, within the same nation, and even within the same town (Warsaw) the 
bodily height of Jews and Gentiles was found to vary according to the degree of prosperity of 
the district. 7 All this does not mean that heredity has no influence on height; but it is over- 
layed and modified by environmental influences, and is unfit as a criterion of race. 

We may now turn to cranial measurements - which were once the great fashion among 
anthropologists, but are now considered rather outdated. Here we meet again with the same 
type of conclusion derived from the data: 

"A comparison of the cephalic indices of Jewish and nonjewish populations in 
various countries reveals a marked similarity between the Jewish and non- 
Jewish indices in many countries, while showing very wide variations when the 
cephalic indices of Jewish populations inhabiting different countries are com- 
pared. Thus one is driven to the conclusion that this feature, its plasticity not 
withstanding, points to a racial diversity of the Jews." 8 

This diversity, it should be noted, is most pronounced between Sephardi and Ashkenazi 
J ews. By and large, the Sephardim are dolichocephalic (long-headed), the Ashkenazim brachy- 
cephalic (broad-headed). Kutschera saw in this difference a further proof of the separate 
racial origin of Khazar-Ashkenazi and Semitic-Sephardi Jews. But we have just seen that the 
indices of shortor long-headedness are co-variant with the host-nations' - which to some 
extent invalidates the argument. 

The statistics relating to other physical features also speak against racial unity. Generally, 
Jews are dark-haired and darkeyed. But how general is "generally", when, according to 
Comas, 49 per cent of Polish Jews were light-haired, 9 and 54 per cent of Jewish schoolchild- 
ren in Austria had blue eyes ? 10 It is true that Virchov 11 found "only" 32 per cent of blond 
Jewish schoolchildren in Germany, whereas the proportion of blond Gentiles was larger; but 
that merely shows that the co-variance is not absolute - as one would expect. 

The hardest evidence to date comes from classification by blood groups. A great amount of 
work has recently been done in this field, but it will be sufficient to quote a single example 
with a particularly sensitive indicator. In Patai's words: 

With regard to blood type, Jewish groups show considerable differences among 
themselves and marked similarities to the Gentile environment. The Hirszfeld 
"biochemical index" 


can be used most conveniently to express this. A few typical examples are: 
German Jews 2.74, German Gentiles 2.63; Rumanian Jews 1.54, Rumanian 
Gentiles 1.55; Polish Jews 1.94, Polish Gentiles 1.55; Moroccan Jews 1.63, 


Moroccan Gentiles 1.63; Iraqi Jews 1.22, Iraqi Gentiles 1.37; Turkistan Jews 
0.97,Turkistan Gentiles 0.99.12 

One might sum up this situation in two mathematical formulae: 

Ga-J a<J a -J b 


Ga-Gb = J a - J b 

That is to say that, broadly speaking, the difference in respect of anthropological criteria 
between Gentiles (G a ) and Jews (J a) in a given country (a) is smaller than the difference 
between Jews in different countries (a and b); and the difference between Gentiles in coun- 
tries a and b is similar to the difference between Jews in a and b. 

It seems appropriate to wind up this section with another quotation from Harry Shapiro's 
contribution to the UNESCO series -The Jewish People: A Biological History: 13 

The wide range of variation between Jewish populations in their physical char- 
acteristics and the diversity of the gene frequencies of their blood groups ren- 
der any unified racial classification for them a contradiction in terms. For 
although modern racial theory admits some degree of polymorphism or varia- 
tion within a racial group, it does not permit distinctly different groups, mea- 
sured by its own criteria of race, to be identified as one. To do so would make 
the biological purposes of racial classification futile and the whole procedure 
arbitrary and meaningless. Unfortunately, this subject is rarely wholly divorced 
from non-biological considerations, and despite the evidence efforts continue 
to be made to somehow segregate the Jews as a distinct racial entity. 

How did this twin-phenomenon -diversity in somatic features and conformity to the host- 
nation -come about? The geneticists' obvious answer is: through miscegenation com- 
bined with selective pressures. 
"This", writes Fishberg, "is indeed the crucial point in the anthropology of the Jews: are 
they of pure race, modified more or less by environmental influences, or are they a religious 
sect composed of racial elements acquired by proselytism and intermarriage during their 
migration in various parts of the world?" And he leaves his readers in no doubt about the 
answer: 14 

Beginning with Biblical evidence and traditions, it appears that even in the 
beginning of the formation of the tribe of Israel they were already composed of 
various racial elements.... We find in Asia Minor, Syria and Palestine at that 
time many races - the Amorites, who were blondes, dolichocephalic, and tall; 
the Hittites, a dark<omplexioned race, probably of Mongoloid type; the 
Cushites, a negroid race; and many others. With all these the ancient Hebrews 
intermarried, as can be seen in many passages in the Bible. 

The prophets may thunder against "marrying daughters of a strange god", yet the promis- 
cuous Israelites were not deterred, and their leaders were foremost in giving a bad example. 
Even the first patriarch, Abraham, cohabited with Hagar, an Egyptian; Joseph married 
Asenath, who was not only Egyptian but the daughter of a priest; Moses married a Midianite, 
Zipporah; Samson, the Jewish hero, was a Philistine; King David's mother was a Moabite, and 
he married a princess of Geshur; as for King Solomon (whose mother was a Hittite), "He 
loved many strange women, including the daughter of Pharaoh, women of the Moabites, 
Animonites, Edomites, Zidonians, and Hittites . . . " 15 And so the chronique scandaleuse goes 
on. The Bible also makes it clear that the royal example was imitated by many, high and low. 
Besides, the biblical prohibition of marrying Gentiles exempted female captives in times of 
war - and there was no shortage of them. The Babylonian exile did not improve racial purity; 
even members of priestly families married Gentile women. In short, at the beginning of the 
Diaspora, the Israelites were already a thoroughly hybridized race. So, of course, were most 
historic nations, and the point would not need stressing if it were not for the persistent myth 
of the Biblical Tribe having preserved its racial purity throughout the ages. 

Another important source of interbreeding were the vast numbers of people of the most 
varied races converted to Judaism. Witness to the proselytizing zeal of the Jews of earlier 
times are the black-skinned Falasha of Abyssinia, the Chinese J ews of Kai-Feng who look like 
Chinese, the Yemenite J ews with their dark olive complexion, the J ewish Berber tribes of the 
Sahara who look like Tuaregs, and so on, down to our prime example, the Khazars. 

Nearer home, Jewish proselytizing reached its peak in the Roman Empire between the fall 
of the J ewish state and the rise of Christianity. Many patrician families in Italy were converted, 
but also the royal family which ruled the province of Adiabene. Philo speaks of numerous con- 
verts in Greece; Flavius Josephus relates that a large proportion of the population of Antioch 


was J udaized; St Paul met with proselytes on his travels more or less everywhere from Athens 
to Asia Minor. "The fervour of proselytism", the Jewish historian Th. Reinach wrote: 16 

Was indeed one of the most distinctive traits of Judaism during the Greco- 
Roman epoch - a trait which it never possessed in the same degree either 
before or since . . . It cannot be doubted that Judaism in this way made numer- 
ous converts during two or three centuries . . . The enormous growth of the 
Jewish nation in Egypt, Cyprus, and Cyrene cannot be accounted for without 
supposing an abundant infusion of Gentile blood. Proselytism swayed alike the 
upper and the lower classes of society. 

The rise of Christianity slowed down the rate of miscegenation, and the ghetto put a tempo- 
rary end to it; but before the ghetto-rules were strictly enforced in the sixteenth century, the 
process still went on. This is shown by the ever- repeated ecclesiastic interdictions of mixed 
marriages - e.g., by the Council of Toledo, 589; the Council of Rome, 743; the first and sec- 
ond Lateran Councils 1123 and 1139; or the edict of King Ladislav II of Hungary in 1092. 
That all these prohibitions were only partly effective is shown, for instance, by the report of 
the Hungarian Archbishop Robert von Grain to the Pope AD 1229, complaining that many 
Christian women are married to Jews, and that within a few years "many thousands of 
Christians" were lost in this way to the Church. 17 

The only effective bar were the ghetto walls. When these crumbled, intermarriages started 
again. Their rate accelerated to such an extent that in Germany, between 1921 and 1925, out 
of every 100 marriages involving Jews, 42 were mixed. 18 .As for the Sephardi, or "true" Jews, 
their sojourn in Spain for more than a millennium left its indelible mark both on themselves 
and on their hosts. As Arnold Toynbee wrote: 

There is every reason to believe that in Spain and Portugal today there is a strong tincture 
of the blood of these Jewish converts in Iberian veins, especially in the upper and middle 
classes. Yet the most acut psychoanalyst would find it difficult, if samples of living upper-and 
middle-class Spanish and Portuguese were presented to him, to detect who had Jewish 
ancestors. 19 

The process worked both ways. After the massacres of 1391 and 1411 which swept the 
Peninsula, over 100000 J ews at a moderate estimate - accepted baptism. But a considerable 
proportion of them continued to practice Judaism in secret. These crypto-Jews, the Marranos, 
prospered, rose to high positions at court and in the ecclesiastical hierarchy, and intermarried 
with the aristocracy. After the expulsion of all unrepentant Jews from Spain (1492) and 
Portugal (1497) the Marranos were regarded with increasing suspicion; many were burned by 
the Inquisition, the majority emigrated in the sixteenth century to the countries around the 
Mediterranean, to Holland, England and France. Once in safety, they openly reverted to their 
faith and, together with the 1492-7 expellees, founded the new Sephardic communities in 
these countries. 

Thus Toynbee's remark about the hybrid ancestry of the upper strata of society in Spain 
also applies, mutatis mutandis, to the Sephardic communities of Western Europe. Spinoza's 
parents were Portuguese Marranos, who emigrated to Amsterdam. The old Jewish families of 
England (who arrived here long before the nineteenth-twentieth century influx from the east), 
the Montefiores, Lousadas, Montagues, Avigdors, Sutros, Sassoons, etc., all came out of the 
Iberian mixing bowl, and can claim no purer racial origin than the Ashkenazis - or the Jews 
named Davis, Harris, Phillips or Hart. 

One distressingly recurrent type of event was miscegenation by rape. That too has a long 
history starting in Palestine. We are told, for example, that a certain Juda ben Ezekial 
opposed his son marrying a woman who was not of "the seed of Abraham", whereupon his 
friend U Ma remarked: "How do we know for certain that we ourselves are not descended from 
the heathens who violated the maidens of Zion at the siege of Jerusalem?" 20 Rape and loot 
(the amount of the latter often fixed in advance) was considered a natural right of a conquer- 
ing army. 

There is an ancient tradition, recorded by Graetz, which attributes the origin of the earliest 
Jewish settlements in Germany to 

an episode reminiscent of the rape of the Sabine women. According to this tradition, a 
German unit, the Vangioni who fought with the Roman legions in Palestine, "had chosen from 
the vast horde of Jewish prisoners the most beautiful women, had brought them back to their 
stations on the shores of the Rhine and the Main, and had compelled them to minister to the 
satisfaction of their desires. The children thus begotten of Jewish and German parents were 
brought up by their mothers in the J ewish faith, their fathers not troubling themselves about 
them. It is these children who are said to have been the founders of the first J ewish commu- 
nities between Worms and Mayence." 21 

In Eastern Europe rape was even more common. To quote Fishberg again: 

Such violent infusion of Gentile blood into the veins of the flock of Israel has 
been especially frequent in Slavonic countries. One of the favourite methods of 
the Cossacks to wring out money from the Jews was to take a large number of 
prisoners, knowing well that the Jews would ransom them. That the women 
thus ransomed were violated by these semi-savage tribes goes without saying. 
In fact, the "Council of the Four Lands", at its session in the winter of 1650, 
had to take cognizance of the poor women and children born to them from 


Cossack husbands during captivity, and thus restore order in the family and 
social life of the Jews. Similar outrages were ... again perpetrated on Jewish 
women in Russia during the massacres in 1903-5. 22 

And yet - to return to the paradox - many people, who are neither racialists nor anti- 
Semites, are convinced that they are able to recognize a J ew at a single glance. How is 
this possible if Jews are such a hybrid lot as history and anthropology show them to be? 
Part of the answer, I think, was given by Ernest Renan in 1883: "// n'y a pas un type juif il y a 
des types juifs." 23 The type of Jew who can be recognized "at a glance" is one particular type 
among many others. But only a small fraction of fourteen million J ews belong to that particu- 
lar type, and those who appear to belong to it are by no means always J ews. One of the most 
prominent features - literally and metaphorically- which is said to characterize that particular 
type is the nose, variously described as Semitic, aquiline, hooked, or resembling the beak of 
an eagle (bee d'aigle). But, surprisingly, among 2836 Jews in New York City, Fishberg found 
that only 14 per cent - i.e., one person in seven - had a hooked nose; while 57 per cent were 
straight-nosed, 20 per cent were snub-nosed and 6.5 per cent had "flat and broad noses". 24 
Other anthropologists came up with smiilar results regarding Semitic noses in Poland and 
the Ukraine. 25 Moreover, among true Semites, such as pure-bred Bedoums, this form of nose 
does not seem to occur at all. 26 On the other hand, it is "very frequently met among the vari- 
ous Caucasian tribes, and also in Asia Minor. Among the indigenous races in this region, such 
as the Armenians, Georgians, Ossets, Lesghians, Aissors, and also the Syrians, aquiline 
noses are the rule. Among the people living in Mediterranean countries of Europe, as the 
Greeks, Italians, French, Spanish and Portuguese, the aquiline nose is also more frequently 
encountered than among the Jews of Eastern Europe. The North American Indians also very 
often have 'Jewish' noses." 27 .Thus the nose alone is not a very safe guide to identification. 
Only a minority - a particular type of J ew - seems to have a convex nose, and lots of other eth- 
nic groups also have it. Yet intuition tells one that the anthropologists' statistics must be 
somehow wrong. An ingenious way out of this conundrum was suggested by Beddoc and 
J acobs, who maintained that the "J ewish nose" need not be really convex in profile, and may 
yet give the impression of being "hooked", due to a peculiar "tucking up of the wings", an 
infolding of the nostrils. 

To prove his point that it is this "nostrility" which provides the illusion of beakedness, 
Jacobs invites his readers "to write a figure 6 with a long tail (Fig 1); now remove the turn of 
the twist, as in Fig 2, and much of the J ewishness disappears; and it vanishes entirely when 
we draw the lower continuation horizontally, as in Fig 3". Ripley, quoting Jacobs, comments: 
"Behold the transformation! The Jew has turned Roman beyond a doubt. What have we 
proved then? That there is in reality such a phenomenon as a J ewish nose, even though it be 
differently constituted from our first assumption [the criterion of convexity]. 28 

But is there? Figure 1 could still represent an Italian, or Greek, or Spanish or Armenian, or 
Red Indian nose, "nostrility" included. That it is a Jewish, and not a Red Indian, Armenian, 
etc., nose we deduce - at a glance - from the context of other features, including expression, 
comportment, dress. It is not a process of logical analysis, but rather in the nature of the 
psychologist's Gestalt perception, the grasping of a configuration as a whole. 

Similar considerations apply to each of the facial features considered to be typically J ewish 
- "sensuous lips"; dark, wavy or crinkly hair; melancholy, or cunning, or bulging or slit Mongol 
eyes, and so forth. Taken separately, they are common property of the most varied nations; 
put together, like an identikit, they combine into a prototype of - to say it once more - one par- 
ticular type of Jew, of Eastern European origin, the type with which we are familiar. But our 
identi-kit would not fit the various other types of Jews, such as the Sephardim (including their 
very anglicized descendants in Britain); nor the Slavonic type of Central Europe, nor the blond 
Teutonic, the slit-eyed Mongoloid, or the crinkly-haired Negroid types of J ews. 

Nor can we be sure to recognize with certainty even this limited prototype. The collection of 
portraits published by Fishberg, or Ripley, can be used for a "believe it or not" game, if you 
cover the caption indicating whether the portrayed person is Jew or Gentile. The same game 
can be played on a caf terrace anywhere near the shores of the Mediterranean. It will, of 
course, remain inconclusive because you cannot walk up to the experimental subject and 
inquire after his or her religion; but if you play the game in company, the amount of disagree- 
ment between the observers' verdicts will be a surprise. Suggestibility also plays a part. "Did 


you know that Harold is Jewish?" "No, but now that you mention it of course I can see it.," 
"Did you know that (this or that) royal family has Jewish blood?" "No, but now that you men- 
tion it ... " Hutchinson's Races of Mankind has a picture of three Geishas with the caption: 
J apanese with J ewish physiognomy. Once you have read the caption you feel: "But of course. 
How could I have missed it?" And when you have played this game for some time, you begin 
to see J ewish features - or Khazar features - everywhere. 

A further source of confusion is the extreme difficulty of separating hereditary characteris- 
tics from those shaped by the social background and other factors in the environment. 
We have come across this problem when discussing bodily stature as an alleged racial 
criterion; but the influence of social factors on physiognomy, conduct, speech, gesture and 
costume works in subtler and more complex ways in assembling the J ewish identikit. Clothing 
(plus coiffure) is the most obvious of these factors. Fit out anybody with long corkscrew side- 
locks, skull-cap, broad-rimmed black hat and long black kaftan, and you recognize at a glance 
the orthodox Jewish type; whatever his nostrility, he will look Jewish. There are other less 
drastic indicators among the sartorial preferences of certain types of Jews of certain social 
classes, combined with accents 

and mannerisms of speech, gesture and social behaviour. .It may be a welcome diversion 
to get away for a moment from the J ews, and listen to a French writer describing how his com- 
patriots can tell an Englishman "at a glance". Michel Leiris, apart from being an eminent 
writer, is Director of Research at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique and Staff 
Member of the Muse de I'Homme: 

It is . . . absurd to talk about an English "race" or even to regard the English as 
being of the "Nordic" race. In point of fact, history teaches that, like all the 
people of Europe, the English people has become what it is through succes- 
sive contributions of different peoples. England is a Celtic country, partially col- 
onized by successive waves of Saxons, Danes and Normans from France, with 
some addition of Roman stock from the age of Julius Caesar onwards. 
Moreover, while an Englishman can be identified by his way of dressing, or 
even by his behaviour, it is impossible to tell that he is an Englishman merely 
from his physical appearance. Among the English, as among other Europeans, 
there are both fair people and dark, tall men and short, dolichocephalics and 
brachycephalics. It may be claimed that an Englishman can be readily identi- 
fied from certain external characteristics which give him a "look" of his own: 
restraint in gesture (unlike the conventional gesticulating southerner), gait and 
facial expression, all expressing what is usually included under the rather 
vague term of "phlegm". However, anyone who made this claim would be likely 
to be found at fault in many instances, for by no means all the English have 
these characteristics, and even if they are the characteristics of the "typical 
Englishman", the fact would still remain that these outward characteristics are 
not "physique" in the true sense: bodily attitudes and motions and expres- 
sions of the face all come under the heading of behaviour; and being habits 
determined by the subject's social background, are cultural, not "natural". 
Moreover, though loosely describable as "traits", they typify not a whole nation, 
but a particular social group within it and thus cannot be included among the 
distinctive marks of race. 29 

However, when Leiris says that facial expressions are not "physique" but "come under the 
heading of behaviour" he seems to overlook the fact that behaviour can modify the features 
of individuals and thus leave its stamp on their "physique". One only has to think of certain 
typical traits in the physiognomies of ageing ham-actors, of priests living in celibacy, of career- 
soldiers, convicts serving long sentences, sailors, farmers, and so on. Their way of life affects 
not only their facial expression but also their physical features, thus giving the mistaken 
impression that these traits are of hereditary or "racial" origin.* [Emenon wrote in his essay 
"English Traits": "Every religious sect has its physiognomy. The Methodists have acquired a 
face, the Quakers a face, the nuns a face. An Englishman will point out a dissenter by his 
manners. Trades and professions carve their own lines on faces and forms." ] 

If I may add a personal observation I frequently met on visits to the United States Central 
European friends of my youth who emigrated before World War Two and whom I had not seen 
for some thirty of forty years. Each time I was astonished to find that they not only dressed, 
spoke, ate and behaved like Americans, but had acquired an American physiognomy. I am 
unable to describe the change, except that it has something to do with a broadening of the 
jaw and a certain look in and around the eyes. (An anthropologist friend attributed the former 
to the increased use of the jaw musculature in American enunciation, and the look as a 
reflection of the rat-race and the resulting propensity for duodenal ulcers.) I was pleased to 
discover that this was not due to my imagination playing tricks -for Fishberg, writing in 1910, 
made a similar observation: 


"... The cast of countenance changes very easily under a change of social 
environment. I have noted such a rapid change among immigrants to the 
United States . . . The new physiognomy is best noted when some of these 
immigrants return to their native homes . . . This fact offers excellent proof that 
the social elements in which a man moves exercise a profound influence on his 
physical features." 30 

The proverbial melting-pot seems to be producing an American physiognomy - a more or 
less standardized phenotype emerging from a wide variety of genotypes. Even the pure-bred 
Chinese and Japanese of the States seem to be affected by the process to some extent. At 
any rate, one can often recognize an American face "at a glance", regardless of dress and 
speech, and regardless of its owner's Italian, Polish or German ancestry. 

In any discussion of the biological and social inheritance of the Jews, the shadow of the 
ghetto must loom large. The J ews of Europe and America, and even of North Africa, are chil- 
dren of the ghetto, at no more than four or five generations removed. Whatever their geo- 
graphical origin, within the ghetto-walls they lived everywhere in more or less the same milieu, 
subjected for several centuries to the same formative, or deformative, influences. 

From the geneticist's point of view, we can distinguish three such major influences: inbreed- 
ing, genetic drift, selection. 

Inbreeding may have played, at a different period, as large a part in J ewish racial history as 
its opposite, hybridization. From biblical times to the era of enforced segregation, and again in 
modern times, miscegenation was the dominant trend. In between, there stretched three to 
five centuries (according to country) of isolation and inbreeding - both in the strict sense of 
consanguinous marriages and in the broader sense of endogamy within a small, segregated 
group. Inbreeding carries the danger of bringing deleterious recessive genes together and 
allowing them to take effect. The high incidence of congenital idiocy among Jews has been 
known for a long time, 31 and was in all probability a result of protracted inbreeding - and not, 
as some anthropologists asserted, a Semitic racial peculiarity. Mental and physical malforma- 
tions are conspicuously frequent in remote Alpine villages, where most of the tombstones in 
the churchyard show one of half a dozen family names. There are no Cohens or Levys 
amongst them. .But inbreeding may also produce champion race-horses through favourable 
gene combinations. Perhaps it contributed to the production of both cretins and geniuses 
among the children of the ghetto. It reminds one of Chaim Weizmann's dictum: "The J ews are 
like other people, only more so." But genetics has little information to offer in this field. 

Another process which may have profoundly affected the people in the ghetto is "genetic 
drift" (also known as the Sewall Wright effect). It refers to the loss of hereditary traits in 
small, isolated populations, either because none of its founding members happened to pos- 
sess the corresponding genes, or because only a few possessed them but failed to transmit 
them to the next generation. Genetic drift can thus produce considerable transformations in 
the hereditary characteristics of small communities. 

The selective pressures active within the ghetto walls must have been of an intensity rarely 
encountered in history. For one thing, since the Jews were debarred from agriculture, they 
became completely urbanized, concentrated in towns or shtetls, which became increasingly 
overcrowded. As a result, to quote Shapiro: 

"the devastating epidemics that swept mediaeval cities and towns, would in 
the long run have been more selective on Jewish populations than on any oth- 
ers, leaving them with progressively greater immunity as time went on . . . and 
their modern descendants would, therefore, represent the survivors of a rigor- 
ous and specific selective process." 32 

This, he thinks, may account for the rarity of tuberculosis among Jews, and their relative 
longevity (amply illustrated by statistics collected by Fishberg). 

The hostile pressures surrounding the ghetto ranged from cold contempt to sporadic acts 
of violence to organized pogroms. Several centuries of living in such conditions must have 
favoured the survival of the glibbest, the most pliant and mentally resilient; in a word, the 
ghetto type. Whether such psychological traits are based on hereditary dispositions on which 
the selective process operates, or are transmitted by social inheritance through childhood 
conditioning, is a question still hotly disputed among anthropologists. We do not even know 
to what extent a high IQ is attributable to heredity, and to what extent to milieu. Take, for 
instance, the Jews' once proverbial abstemiousness which some authorities on alcoholism 
regarded as a racial trait. 33 But one can just as well interpret it as another inheritance from 
the ghetto, the unconscious residue of living for centuries under precarious conditions which 
made it dangerous to lower one's guard; the Jew with the yellow star on his back had to 
remain cautious and sober, while watching with amused contempt the antics of the "drunken 
goy". Revulsion against alcohol and other forms of debauch was instilled from parent to child 
in successive generations - until the memories of the ghetto faded, and with progressive 
assimilation, particularly in the Anglo-Saxon countries, the alcohol intake progressively 
increased. Thus abstemiousness, like so many other J ewish characteristics, turned out to be, 
after all, a matter of social and not biological, inheritance. 


Lastly, there is yet another evolutionary process - sexual selection - which may have con- 
tributed in producing the traits which we have come to regard as typically Jewish. Ripley 
seems to have been the first to suggest this (his italics): 

"The Jew is radically mixed in the line of racial descent; he is, on the other 
hand, the legitimate heir to all Judaism as a matter of choice .... It affected 
every detail of their life. Why should it not also react upon their ideal of physical 
beauty? and why not influence their sexual preferences, as well as determine 
their choice in marriage? Its results thus became accentuated through hered- 
ity" 34 

Ripley did not inquire into the ghetto's "ideal of physical beauty". But Fishberg did, and 
came up with an appealing suggestion: "To the strictly orthodox Jew in Eastern Europe, a 
strong muscular person is an Esau. The ideal of a son of Jacob was during the centuries 
before the middle of the nineteenth century, 'a silken young man'." 35 This was a delicate, 
anaemic, willowy youth with a wistful expression, all brains and no brawn. .But, he continues, 
"in Western Europe and America there is at present a strong tendency in the opposite direc- 
tion. ManyJ ews are proud of the fact that they do not look like J ews. Considering this, it must 
be acknowledged that there is hardly a glowing future for the so-called 'J ewish' cast of coun- 
tenance." 36 

Least of all, we may add, among young Israelis. 


In Part One of this book I have attempted to trace the history of the Khazar Empire based on 
the scant existing sources. .In Part Two, Chapters V-VII, I have compiled the historical evi- 
dence which indicates that the bulk of Eastern Jewry - and hence of world Jewry - is of 
Khazar-Turkish, rather than Semitic, origin. 

In this last chapter I have tried to show that the evidence from anthropology concurs with 
history in refuting the popular belief in a J ewish race descended from the biblical tribe. 

From the anthropologist's point of view, two groups of facts militate against this belief: the 
wide diversity of Jews with regard to physical characteristics, and their similarity to the Gentile 
population amidst whom they live. Both are reflected in the statistics about bodily height, cra- 
nial index, blood-groups, hair and eye colour, etc. Whichever of these anthropological criteria 
is taken as an indicator, it shows a greater similarity between Jews and their Gentile host- 
nation than between Jews living in different countries. To sum up this situaton, I have sug- 
gested the formulae: 

Ga-J a < J a-J b| 


Ga-Gb =J a -J b. 

The obvious biological explanation for both phenomena is miscegenation, which took differ- 
ent forms in different historical situations: intermarriage, large-scale proselytizing, rape as a 
constant (legalized or tolerated) accompaniment of war and pogrom. 

The belief that, notwithstanding the statistical data, there exists a recognizable Jewish type 
is based largely, but not entirely on various misconceptions. It ignores the fact that features 
regarded as typically Jewish by comparison with nordic people cease to appear so in a 
Mediterranean environment; it is unaware of the impact of the social environment on 
physique and countenance; and it confuses biological with social inheritance. 

Nevertheless, there exist certain hereditary traits which characterize a certain type of con- 
temporary Jew. In the light of modern population-genetics, these can to a large degree be 
attributed to processes which operated for several centuries in the segregated conditions of 
the ghetto: inbreeding, genetic drift, selective pressure. The last-mentioned operated in sev- 
eral ways: natural selection (e.g., through epidemics), sexual selection and, more doubtfully, 
the selection of character-features favouring survival within the ghetto walls. 

In addition to these, social heredity, through childhood conditioning, acted as a powerful for- 
mative and deformative factor. 

Each of these processes contributed to the emergence of the ghetto type. In the post- 
ghetto period it became progressively diluted. As for the genetic composition and physical 
appearance of the pre-ghetto stock, we know next to nothing. In the view presented in this 
book, this "original stock" was predominantly Turkish mixed to an unknown extent with 
ancient Palestinian and other elements. Nor is it possible to tell which of the so-called typical 
features, such as the "Jewish nose", is a product of sexual selection in the ghetto, or the 
manifestation of a particularly "persistent" tribal gene. Since "nostrility" is frequent among 
Caucasian peoples, and infrequent among the Semitic Bedouins, we have one more pointer to 
the dominant role played by the "thirteenth tribe" in the biological history of the Jews. 




Poliak, op. cit., Appendix. III. 


Enc. Brit. (1973), Vol XII, p. 1054. 


Comas, J. (1958), pp, 31-2. 


Ripley, W, (1900), p, 377, 


Ibid., pp. 378ff. 


Fishberg, M. (1911), p, 37. 


Fishberg, ch. II. 


Patai, op. cit. 


Comas, p. 30. 


Fishberg, p. 63. 


Quoted by Fishberg, p. 63. 


Patat, op. cit, p. 1054. 


Shapiro, H. (1953), pp. 74-5. 


Fishberg, p. 181. 


1 Kings, XI, 1. 


Quoted by Fishberg, pp. 186-7. 


Fishberg, p. 189, n. 2. 


Comas, p. 31. 


Toynbee, 1947, p. 138. 


Graetz, op. cit, Vol. II, p. 213, 


Ibid., Vol. Ill, pp, 40-1, 


Fishberg, p. 191. 


Renan (1883), p. 24. 


Fishberg, p. 79. 


Ripley, p. 394f. 


Fishberg, p. 83, quoting Luschan. 


Fishberg, p. 83. 


Ripley, p. 395. 


Leiris, M. (1958), pp. 11 and 12. 


Fishberg, p. 513, 


Fishberg, pp. 332ff 


Shapiro H. (1953), p. 80. 


e.g., Kerr and Reid, quoted by Fishberg, pp. 



Ripley, p. 398. 


Fishberg, p. 178. 


Loc. cit. 


The Thirteenth Tribe 

Arthur Koestler 

Appendix I: A Note on spelling 

THE spelling in this book is consistently inconsistent. It is consistent in so far as, where I 
have quoted other authors, I have preserved their own spelling of proper names (what 
else can you do?); this led to the apparent inconsistency that the same person, town or 
tribe is often spelt differently in different passages. Hence Kazar, Khazar, Chazar, Chozar, 
Chozr, etc.; but also Ibn Fadlan and ibn-Fadlan; Al Masudi and al-Masudi. As for my own text, I 
have adopted that particular spelling which seemed to me the least bewildering to English- 
speaking readers who do not happen to be professional orientalists. T. E. Lawrence was a bril- 
liant orientalist, but he was as ruthless in his spelling as he was in raiding Turkish garrisons. 
His brother, A. W. Lawrence, explained in his preface to Seven Pillars of Wisdom: 

The spelling of Arabic names varies greatly in all editions, and I have made no 
alterations. It should be explained that only three vowels are recognized in 
Arabic, and that some of the consonants have no equivalents in English. The 
general practice of orientalists in recent years has been to adopt one of the 
various sets of conventional signs for the letters and vowel marks of the Arabic 
alphabet, transliterating Mohamed as Muhammad, muezzin as mu'edhdhin, 
and Koran as Qufan or Kur'an. This method is useful to those who know what 
it means but this book follows the old fashion of writing the best phonetic 
approximations according to ordinary English spelling. 

He then prints a list of publisher's queries re spelling, and T. F. Lawrence's answers; for 
instance: Query: "Slip [galley sheet] 20. Nuri, Emir of the Ruwalla, belongs to the 'chief family 
of the Rualla'. On Slip 23 'Rualla horse', and Slip 38, 'killed one Rueli'. In all later slips 
'Rualla'." Answer: "should have also used Ruwala and Ruala." Query: "Slip 47. Jedha, the 
she-camel, was Jedhah on Slip 40." .Answer: "she was a splendid beast." Query: "Slip 78. 
Sherif Abd el Mayin of Slip 68 becomes el Main, el Mayein, el Muein, el Mayin, and el 
Muyein." Answerr: "Good egg. I call this really ingenious." If such are the difficulties of tran- 
scribing modern Arabic, confusion becomes worse confounded when orientalists turn to medi- 
aeval texts, which pose additional problems owing to mutilations by careless copyists. The 
first English translation of "Ebn Haukal" (or ibn-Hawkal) was published AD 1800 by Sir William 
Ouseley, Knt. LL.D. * [Ibn Hawkal wrote his book in Arabic, but Ouseley translated it from a 
Persian translation.] In his preface, Sir William, an eminent orientalist, uttered this touching 
cri de cour: 

Of the difficulties arising from an irregular combination of letters, the confusion 
of one word with another, and the total omission, in some lines, of the diacriti- 
cal points, I should not complain, because habit and persevering attention have 
enabled me to surmount them in passages of general description, or sen- 
tences of common construction; but in the names of persons or of places 
never before seen or heard of, and which the context could not assist in deci- 
phering, when the diacritical points were omitted, conjecture alone could supply 
them, or collation with a more perfect manuscript . . . Notwithstanding what I 
have just said, and although the most learned writers on Hebrew, Arabick, and 
Persian Literature, have made observations on the same subject, it may per- 
haps, be necessary to demonstrate, by a particular example, the extraordinary 
influence of those diacritical points [frequently omitted by copyists]. One exam- 
ple will suffice -Let us suppose the three letters forming the name Tibbet to be 
divested of their diacritical points. The first character may be rendered, by the 
application of one point above, an N; of two points a T, of three points a TH or 
S; if one point is placed under, it becomes a B - if two points, a Y and if three 
points, a R In like manner the second character may be affected, and the third 
character may be, according to the addition of points, rendered a B, RT, and TH, 
or S* [The original of this quote is enlivened by letters in Persian script, which I 
have omitted in kindness to the publishers.] 




OUR knowledge of Khazar history is mainly derived from Arab, Byzantine, Russian and 
Hebrew sources, with corroborative evidence of Persian, Syriac, Armenian, Georgian and 
Turkish origin. I shall comment only on some of the major sources. 

1. Arabic 

The early Arabic historians differ from all others in the unique form of their 
compositions. Each event is related in the words of eye-witnesses or contem- 
poraries, transmitted to the final narrator through a chain of intermediate 
reporters, each of whom passed on the original report to his successor. Often 
the same account is given in two or more slightly divergent forms, which have 
come down through different chains of reporters. Often, too, one event or one 
important detail is told in several ways on the basis of several contemporary 
statements transmitted to the final narrator through distinct lines of tradition . 
. . The principle still is that what has been well said once need not be told 
again in other words. The writer, therefore, keeps as close as he can to the let- 
ter of his sources, so that quite a late writer often reproduces the very words of 
the first narrator . . . 

Thus the two classic authorities in the field, H. A. R. Gibb and M.J. de Goeje, in their joint 
article on Arab historiography in earlier editions of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. 1 It explains 
the excruciating difficulties in tracing an original source which as often as not is lost - through 
the successive versions of later historians, compilers and plagiarists. It makes it frequently 
impossible to put a date on an episode or a description of the state of affairs in a given coun- 
try; and the uncertainty of dating may range over a whole century in passages where the 
author gives an account in the present tense without a clear indication that he is quoting 
some source in the distant past. Add to this the difficulties of identifying persons, tribes and 
places, owing to the confusion over spelling, plus the vagaries of copyists, and the result is a 
jigsaw puzzle with half the pieces missing, others of extraneous origin thrown in, and only the 
bare outlines of the picture discernible. 

The principal Arabic accounts of Khazaria, most frequently quoted in these pages, are by 
Ibn Fadlan, al-lstakhri, Ibn Hawkal and al-Masudi. But only a few of them can be called "pri- 
mary" sources, such as Ibn Fadlan who speaks from first-hand experience. Ibn Hawkal's 
account, for instance, written circa 977, is based almost entirely on Istakhri's, written around 
932; which in turn is supposed to be based on a lost work by the geographer el-Balkhi, who 
wrote around 921. 

About the lives of these scholars, and the quality of their scholarship we know very little. 
Ibn Fadlan, the diplomat and astute observer, is the one who stands out most vividly. 
Nevertheless, as we move along the chain through the tenth century, we can observe succes- 
sive stages in the evolution of the young science of historiography. El-Balkhi, the first in the 
chain, marks the beginning of the classical school of Arab Geography, in which the main 
emphasis is on maps, while the descriptive text is of secondary importance. Istakhri shows a 
marked improvement with a shift of emphasis from maps to text. (About his life nothing is 
known; and what survives of his writings is apparently only a synopsis of a larger work.) With 
Ibn Hawkal (about whom we only know that he was a travelling merchant and missionary) a 
decisive advance is reached: the text is no longer a commentary on the maps (as in Balkhi, 
and still partly in Istakhri), but becomes a narrative in its own right. 

Lastly with Yakut (1179-1229) we reach, two centuries later, the age of the compilers and 
encyclopaedists. About him we know at least that he was born in Greece, and sold as a boy 
on the slave market in Baghdad to a merchant who treated him kindly and used him as a kind 
of commercial traveller. After his manumission he became an itinerant bookseller and eventu- 
ally settled in Mossul, where he wrote his great encyclopaedia of geography and history. This 
important work includes both Istakhri's and Ibn Fadlan's account of the Khazars. But, alas, 
Yakut mistakenly attributes Istakhri's narrative also to Ibn Fadlan. As the two narratives differ 
on important points, their attribution to the same author produced various absurdities, with 
the result that Ibn Fadlan became somewhat discredited in the eyes of modern historians. 

But events took a different turn with the discovery of the full text of Ibn Fadlan's report on 
an ancient manuscript in Meshhed, Persia. The discovery, which created a sensation among 
orientalists, was made in 1923 by Dr Zeki Validi Togan (about whom more below). It not only 
confirmed the authenticity of the sections of Ibn Fadlan's report on the Khazars quoted by 
Yakut, but also contained passages omitted by Yakut which were thus previously unknown. 
Moreover, after the confusion created by Yakut, Ibn Fadlan and Istakhri/ Ibn Hawkal were now 
recognized as independent sources which mutually corroborated each other. .The same cor- 
roborative value attaches to the reports of Ibn Rusta, al-Bekri or Gardezi, which I had little 
occasion to quote precisely because their contents are essentially similar to the main 


sources. .Another, apparently independent source was al-Masudi (died circa 956), known as 
"the Arab Herodotus". He was a restless traveller, of insatiable curiosity, but modern Arab his- 
torians seem to take a rather jaundiced view of him. Thus the Encyclopaedia of Islam says 
that his travels were motivated "by a strong desire for knowledge. But this was superficial and 
not deep. He never went into original sources but contented himself with superficial enquiries 
and accepted tales and legends without criticism." 
But this could just as well be said of other mediaeval historiographers, Christian or Arab. 

2. Byzantine 

Among Byzantine sources, by far the most valuable is Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus's De 
Adnimistrando Imperio, written about 950. It is important not only because of the information 
it contains about the Khazars themselves (and particularly about their relationship with the 
Magyars), but because of the data it provides on the Rus and the people of the northern 
steppes. Constantine (904-59) the scholar-emperor was a fascinating character - no wonder 
Arnold Toynbee confessed to have "lost his heart" to him 2 - a love-affair with the past that 
started in his undergraduate days. The eventual result was Toynbee's monumental 
Constantine Porphyrogenitus and his World, published in 1973, when the author was eighty- 
four. As the title indicates, the emphasis is as much on Constantine's personality and work 
as on the conditions of the world in which he - and the Khazars - lived. 

Yet Toynbee's admiration for Constantine did not make him overlook the Emperor's limita- 
tions as a scholar: "The information assembled in the De Administrando Imperio has been 
gathered at different dates from different sources, and the product is not a book in which the 
materials have been digested and co-ordinated by an author; it is a collection of files which 
have been edited only perfunctorily." 3 And later on: "De Administrando Imperio and De 
Caeromoniis, in the state in which Constantine bequeathed them to posterity, will strike most 
readers as being in lamentable confusion." 4 (Constantine himself was touchingly convinced 
that De Caeromoniis was a "technical masterpiece" besides being "a monument of exact 
scholarship and a labour of love" 5 .) Similar criticisms had been voiced earlier by Bury,6 and 
by Macartney, trying to sort out Constantine's contradictory statements about the Magyar 
migrations: ". . .We shall do well to remember the composition of the De Administrando 
Imperio - a series of notes from the most various sources, often duplicating one another, 
often contradicting one another, and tacked together with the roughest of editing." 7 

But we must beware of bathwaterism - throwing the baby away with the water, as scholarly 
critics are sometimes apt to do. Constantine was privileged as no other historian to explore 
the Imperial archives and to receive first-hand reports from his officials and envoys returning 
from missions abroad. When handled with caution, and in conjunction with other sources, De 
Administrando throws much valuable light on that dark period. 

3. Russian 

Apart from orally transmitted folklore, legends and songs (such as the "Lay of Igor's Host"), 
the earliest written source in Russian is the Povezt Vremennikh Let, literally "Tale of Bygone 
Years", variously referred to by different authors as The Russian Primary Chronicle, The Old 
Russian Chronicle, The Russian Chronicle, Pseudo-Nestor, or The Book of Annals. It is a compi- 
lation, made in the first half of the twelfth century, of the edited versions of earlier chronicles 
dating back to the beginning of the eleventh, but incorporating even earlier traditions and 
records. It may therefore, as Vernadsky 8 says, "contain fragments of authentic information 
even with regard to the period from the seventh to the tenth century" -a period vital to Khazar 
history. The principal compiler and editor of the work was probably the learned monk Nestor 
(b. 1056) in the Monastery of the Crypt in Kiev, though this is a matter of controversy among 
experts (hence "Pesudo-Nestor"). Questions of authorship apart, the Povezt is an invaluable 
(though not infallible) guide for the period that it covers. Unfortunately, it stops with the year 
1112, just at the beginning of the Khazars' mysterious vanishing act. The mediaeval Hebrew 
sources on Khazaria will be discussed in Appendix III. 


Appendix II: 


It would be presumptuous to comment on the modern historians of repute quoted in these 
pages, such as Toynbee or Bury, Vernadsky, Baron, Macartney, etc. - who have written on 
some aspect of Khazar history. The following remarks are confmed to those authors whose 
writings are of central importance to the problem, but who are known only to a specially inter- 
ested part of the public. .Foremost among these are the late Professor Paul F. Kahle, and his 
former pupil, Douglas Morton Dunlop, at the time of writing Professor of Middle Eastern 
History at Columbia University. 

Paul Eric Kahle (1875-1965) was one of Europe's leading orientalists and masoretic schol- 
ars. He was born in East Prussia, was ordained a Lutheran Minister, and spent six years as a 
Pastor in Cairo. He subsequently taught at various German universities and in 1923 became 
Director of the famous Oriental Seminar in the University of Bonn, an international centre of 
study which attracted orientalists from all over the world. "There can be no doubt", Kahle 
wrote, 9 "that the international character of the Seminar, its staff, its students and its visitors, 
was the best protection against Nazi influence and enabled us to go on with our work undis- 
turbed during nearly six years of Nazi regime in Germany. . . I was for years the only Professor 
in Germany who had a Jew, a Polish Rabbi, as assistant." No wonder that, in spite of his 
impeccable Aryan descent, Kahle was finally forced to emigrate in 1938. He settled in Oxford, 
where he received two additional doctorates (in philosophy and theology). In 1963 he 
returned to his beloved Bonn, where he died in 1965. The British Museum catalogue has 
twenty-seven titles to his credit, among them The Cairo Geniza and Studies of the Dead Sea 

Among Kahle's students before the war in Bonn was the young orientalist D. M. Dunlop. 
Kahle was deeply interested in Khazar history. When the Belgian historian Professor Henri 
Grgoire published an article in 1937 questioning the authenticity of the "Khazar 
Correspondence", 10 Kahle took him to task: 

"/ indicated to Grgoire a number of points in which he could not be right, and I 
had the chance of discussing all the problems with him when he visited me in 
Bonn in December 1937. We decided to make a great joint publication - but 
political developments made the plan impracticable. So I proposed to a former 
Bonn pupil of mine, D. M. Dunlop, that he should take over the work instead. 
He was a scholar able to deal both with Hebrew and Arabic sources, knew 
many other languages and had the critical training for so difficult a task." 11 

The result of this scholarly transaction was Dunlop's The History of the Jewish Khazars, pub- 
lished in 1954 by the Princeton University Press. Apart from being an invaluable sourcebook 
on Khazar history, it provides new evidence for the authenticity of the Correspondence (see 
Appendix III), which Kahle fully endorsed. 12 Incidentally, Professor Dunlop, born in 1909, is the 
son of a Scottish divine, and his hobbies are listed in Who's Who as "hill-walking and Scottish 
history". Thus the two principal apologists of Khazar Judaism in our times were good 
Protestants with an ecclesiastic, Nordic background. .Another pupil of Kahle's with a totally 
different background, was Ahmed Zeki Validi Togan, the discoverer of the Meshhed manu- 
script of Ibn Fadlan's journey around Khazaria. To do justice to this picturesque character, I 
can do no better than to quote from Kahle's memoirs: 13 

Several very prominent Orientals belonged to the staff of the [Bonn] Seminar. 
Among them I may mention DrZeki Validi, a special protege ofSirAurel Stein, a 
Bashkir who had made his studies at Kazan University, and already before the 
first War had been engaged in research work at the Petersburg Academy. 
During the War and after he had been active as leader of the Bashkir-Armee 
[allied to the Bolshevists], which had been largely created by him. He had been 
a member of the Russian Duma, and had belonged for some time to the 
Committee of Six, among whom there were Lenin, Stalin and Trotzki. Later he 
came into conflict with the Bolshevists and escaped to Persia. As an expert on 
Turkish - Bashkirian being a Turkish language - he became in 1924 adviser to 
Mustafa Kemal's Ministry of Education in Ankara, and later Professor of Turkish 
in Stambul University. After seven years, when asked, with the other Professors 
in Stambul, to teach that all civilisation in the world comes from the Turks, he 
resigned, went to Vienna and studied Mediaeval History under Professor 
Dopsch. After two years he got his doctor degree with an excellent thesis on 
Ibn Fadlan's journey to the Northern Bulgars, Turks and Khazars, the Arabic text 
of which he had discovered in a MS. in Meshhed. I later published his book in 
the "Abhandlungen fr die Kunde des Morgenlandes". From Vienna I engaged 
him as Lecturer and later Honorar Professor for Bonn. He was a real scholar, a 
man of wide knowledge, always ready to learn, and collaboration with him was 
very fruitful. In 1938 he went back to Turkey and again became Professor of 
Turkish in Stambul University. 


Yet another impressive figure in a different way, was Hugo Freiherr von Kutschera (1847- 
1910), one of the early propounders of the theory of the Khazar origin of Eastern J ewry. The 
son of a high-ranking Austrian civil servant, he was destined to a diplomatic career, and stud- 
ied at the Oriental Academy in Vienna, where he became an expert linguist, mastering Turkish, 
Arabic, Persian and other Eastern languages. After serving as an attach at the Austro- 
Hungarian Embassy in Constantinople, he became in 1882 Director of Administration in 
Sarajevo of the provinces of Bosnia-Hercegovina, recently occupied by Austro-Hungary. His 
familiarity with oriental ways of life made him a popular figure among the Muslims of Bosnia 
and contributed to the (relative) pacification of the province. He was rewarded with the title of 
Freiherr (Baron) and various other honours. 

After his retirement, in 1909, he devoted his days to his lifelong hobby, the connection 
between European Jewry and the Khazars. Already as a young man he had been struck by the 
contrast between Sephardi and Ashkenazi J ews in Turkey and in the Balkans; his study of the 
ancient sources on the history of the Khazars led to a growing conviction that they provided at 
least a partial answer to the problem. He was an amateur historian (though a quasi-profes- 
sional linguist), but his erudition was remarkable; there is hardly an Arabic source, known 
before 1910, missing from his book. Unfortunately he died before he had time to provide the 
bibliography and references to it; Die Chasaren - Historische Studie was published posthu- 
mously in 1910. Although it soon went into a second edition, it is rarely mentioned by histori- 

Abraham N. Poliak was born in 1910 in Kiev; he came with his family to Palestine in 1923. 
He occupied the Chair of Mediaeval Jewish History at Tel Aviv University and is the author of 
numerous books in Hebrew, among them a History of the Arabs; Feudalism in Egypt 1250- 
1900; Geopolitics of Israel and the Middle East, etc. His essay on "The Khazar Conversion to 
Judaism" appeared in 1941 in the Hebrew periodical Zion and led to lively controversies; his 
book Khazaria even more so. It was published in 1944 in Tel Aviv (in Hebrew) and was 
received with - perhaps understandable - hostility, as an attempt to undermine the sacred tra- 
dition concerning the descent of modern J ewry from the Biblical Tribe. His theory is not men- 
tioned in the Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971-2 printing. Mathias Mieses, however, whose views 
on the origin of Eastern J ewry and the Yiddish language I have quoted, is held in high acade- 
mic esteem. Born 1885 in Galicia, he studied linguistics and became a pioneer of Yiddish 
philology (though he wrote mostly in German, Polish and Hebrew). He was an outstanding fig- 
ure at the First Conference on the Yiddish Language, Czernovitz, 1908, and his two books: 
Die Entstehungsursache derjdischen Dialekte (1924) and Die Jiddische Sprache (1924) are 
considered as classics in their field. Mieses spent his last years in Cracow, was deported in 
1944 with destination Auschwitz, and died on the journey. 


1 Vol. 11. p. 195, in the 1955 printing. 

2 Toynbee (1973), p. 24. 

3 Ibid., p. 465. 

4 Ibid., p. 602. 

5 Loc. cit. 

6 Byzantinische Zeitschrift XIV, pp. 511-70. 

7 Macartney, op. cit, p. 98. 

8 Vernadsky(1943), p. 178. 

9 Kahle, PE. (1945). 

10 Gregoire, H. (1937), pp. 225-66. 

11 Kahle (1959), p. 33. 

12 Ibid. 

13 Kahle (1945), p. 28. 




THE exchange of letters between the Spanish statesman Hasdai ibn Shaprut and King 
loseph of Khazaria has for a long time fascinated historians. It is true that, as Dunlop 
wrote, "the importance of the Khazar Correspondence can be exaggerated. By this time 
it is possible to reconstruct Khazar history in some detail without recourse to the letters of 
Hasdai and J oseph." 1 Nevertheless, the reader may be interested in a brief outline of what is 
known of the history of these documents. .Hasdai's Letter was apparently written between 
954 and 961, for the embassy from Eastern Europe that he mentions (Chapter 111,34) is 
believed to have visited Cordoba in 954, and Caliph Abd-al-Rahman, whom he mentions as his 
sovereign, ruled till 961. That the Letter was actually penned by Hasdai's secretary, Menahem 
ben-Sharuk - whose name appears in the acrostic after Hasdai's - has been established by 
Landau, 2 through comparison with Menahem's other surviving work. Thus the authenticity of 
Hasdai's Letter is no longer in dispute, while the evidence concerning J oseph's Reply is nec- 
essarily more indirect and complex. 

The earliest known mentions of the Correspondence date from the eleventh and twelfth 
centuries. Around the year 1100 Rabbi Jehudah ben Barzillai of Barcelona wrote in Hebrew 
his "Book of the Festivals" -Sefer ha-lttim -which contains a long reference, including direct 
quotations, to Joseph's Reply to Hasdai. The passage in question in Barzillai's work starts as 

We have seen among some other manuscripts the copy of a letter which King 
Joseph, son of Aaron, the Khazar priest wrote to R. Hasdai bar 
Isaac* [Hasdai's name in Hebrew was bar Isaac bar Shaprut. The R (for Rabbi) 
is a courtesy title.] We do not know if the letter is genuine or not, and ifit is a 
fact that the Khazars, who are Turks, became proselytes. It is not definite 
whether all that is written in the letter is fact and truth or not. There may be 
falsehoods written in it, or people may have added to it, or there may be error 
on the part of the scribe.... The reason why we need to write in this our book 
things which seem to be exaggerated is that we have found in the letter of this 
king Joseph to R. Hasdai that R. Hasdai had asked him of what family he was, 
the condition of the king, how his fathers had been gathered under the wings of 
the Presence [i.e., become converted to Judaism] and how great were his king- 
dom and dominion. He replied to him on every head, writing all the particulars 
in the letter. 3 

Barzillai goes on to quote or paraphrase further passages from J oseph's Reply, thus leaving 
no doubt that the Reply was already in existence as early as AD 1100. A particularly convinc- 
ing touch is added by the Rabbi's scholarly scepticism. Living in provincial Barcelona, he evi- 
dently knew little or nothing about the Khazars. 

About the time when Rabbi Barzillai wrote, the Arab chronicler, Ibn Hawkal, also heard some 
rumours about Hasdai's involvement with the Khazars. There survives an enigmatic note, 
which Ibn Hawkal jotted down on a manuscript map, dated AH 479 -AD 1086. It says: 

Hasdai ibn-lshaq* [Arab version of Hasdai's name.] thinks that this great long 
mountain [the Caucasus] is connected with the mountains of Armenia and tra- 
verses the country of the Greeks, extending to Khazaran and the mountains of 
Armenia. He was well informed about these parts because he visited them and 
met their principal kings and leading men. 4 

It seems most unlikely that Hasdai actually visited Khazaria; but we remember that he 
offered to do so in his Letter, and that J oseph enthusiastically welcomed the prospect in the 
Reply; perhaps the industrious Hawkal heard some gossip about the Correspondence and 
extrapolated from there, a practice not unfamiliar among the chroniclers of the time. .Some 
fifty years later (AD 1140) Jehudah Halevi wrote his philosophical tract "The Khazars" (Kuzri). 
As already said, it contains little factual information, but his account of the Khazar conversion 
to Judaism agrees in broad outlines with that given by J oseph in the Reply. Halevi does not 
explicitly refer to the Correspondence, but his book is mainly concerned with theology, disre- 
garding any historical or factual references. He had probably read a transcript of the 
Correspondence as the less erudite Barzillai had before him, but the evidence is inconclusive. 
It is entirely conclusive, however, in the case of Abraham ben Daud (cf. above, II, 8) whose 
popular Sefer ha-Kabbalah, written in 1161, contains the following passage: 

You will find congregations of Israel spread abroad from the town ofSala at the 
extremity of the Maghrib, as far as Tahart at its commencement, the extremity 
of Africa [Ifriqiyah, Tunis], in all Africa, Egypt, the country of the Sabaeans, 
Arabia, Babylonia, Elam, Persia, Dedan, the country of the Girgashites which is 
called J urjan, Tabaristan, as far as Daylam and the river Itil where live the 


Khazar peoples who became proselytes. Their king Joseph sent a letter to R. 
Hasdai, the Prince bar Isaac ben-Shaprut and informed him that he and all his 
people followed the Rabbanite faith. We have seen in Toledo some of their 
descendants, pupils of the wise, and they told us that the remnant of them fol- 
lowed the Rabbanite faith. 5 

The first printed version of the Khazar Correspondence is contained in a Hebrew pam- 
phlet, Kol Mebasser, "Voice of the Messenger of Good News".*[Two copies of the pam- 
phlet belonging to two different editions are preserved in the Bodleian Library.] It was 
published in Constantinople in or around 1577 by Isaac Abraham Akrish. In his preface Akrish 
relates that during his travels in Egypt fifteen years earlier he had heard rumours of an inde- 
pendent] ewish kingdom (these rumours probably referred to the Falashas of Abyssinia); and 
that subsequently he obtained "a letter which was sent to the king of the Khazars, and the 
king's reply". He then decided to publish this correspondence in order to raise the spirits of 
his fellow J ews. Whether or not he thought that Khazaria still existed is not clear. At any rate 
the preface is followed by the text of the two letters, without further comment. 

But the Correspondence did not remain buried in Akrish's obscure little pamphlet. Some 
sixty years after its publication, a copy of it was sent by a friend to Johannes Buxtorf the 
Younger, a Calvinist scholar of great erudition. Buxtorf was an expert Hebraist, who published 
a great amount of studies in biblical exegesis and rabbinical literature. When he read Akrish's 
pamphlet, he was at first as sceptical regarding the authenticity of the Correspondence as 
Rabbi Barzillai had been five hundred years before him. But in 1660 Buxtorf finally printed the 
text of both letters in Hebrew and in a Latin translation as an addendum to J ehudah Halevi's 
book on the Khazars. It was perhaps an obvious, but not a happy idea, for the inclusion, within 
the same covers, of Halevi's legendary tale hardly predisposed historians to take the 
Correspondence seriously. It was only in the nineteenth century that their attitude changed, 
when more became known, from independent sources, about the Khazars. 

The only manuscript version which contains both Hasdai's Letter and J oseph's Reply, is in 
the library of Christ Church in Oxford. According to Dunlop and the Russian expert, 
Kokovtsov, 6 the manuscript "presents a remarkably close similarity to the printed text" 
and "served directly or indirectly as a source of the printed text". 7 It probably dates from the 
sixteenth century and is believed to have been in the possession of the Dean of Christ 
Church, John Fell (whom Thomas Brown immortalized with his "I do not love thee, Dr Fell . . 

Another manuscript containing Joseph's Reply but not Hasdai's Letter is preserved in the 
Leningrad Public Library. It is considerably longer than the printed text of Akrish and the Christ 
Church manuscript; accordingly it is generally known as the Long Version, as distinct from the 
Akrish-Christ Church "Short Version", which appears to be an abbreviation of it. The Long 
Version is also considerably older; it probably dates from the thirteenth century, the Short 
Version from the sixteenth. The Soviet historian Ribakov 8 has plausibly suggested that the 
Long Version -or an even older text - had been edited and compressed by mediaeval Spanish 
copyists to produce the Short Version of Joseph's Reply. At this point we encounter a red her- 
ring across the ancient track. The Long Version is part of the so-called "Firkowich Collection" 
of Hebrew manuscripts and epitaphs in the Leningrad Public Library. It probably came from 
the Cairo Geniza, where a major part of the manuscripts in the Collection originated. Abraham 
Firkowich was a colourful nineteenth-century scholar who would deserve an Appendix all to 
himself. He was a great authority in his field, but he was also a Karaite zealot who wished to 
prove to the Tsarist government that the Karaites were different from orthodox Jews and 
should not be discriminated against by Christians. With this laudable purpose in mind, he 
doctored some of his authentic old manuscripts and epitaphs, by interpolating or adding a few 
words to give them a Karaite slant. Thus the Long Version, having passed through the hands 
of Firkowich, was greeted with a certain mistrust when it was found, after his death, in a bun- 
dle of other manuscripts in his collection by the Russian historian Harkavy. Harkavy had no 
illusions about Firkowich's reliability, for he himself had previously denounced some of 
Firkowich's spurious interpolations. 9 Yet Harkavy had no doubts regarding the antiquity of the 
manuscript; he published it in the original Hebrew in 1879 and also in Russian and German 
translation, 10 accepting it as an early version of J oseph's letter, from which the Short Version 
was derived. Harkavy's colleague (and rival) Chwolson concurred that the whole document 
was written by the same hand and that it contained no additions of any kind. 11 Lastly, in 
1932, the Russian Academy published Paul Kokovtsov's authoritative book, The Hebrew- 
Khazar Correspondence in the Tenth Century 12 including facsimiles of the Long Version of the 
Reply in the Leningrad Library, the Short Version in Christ Church and in Akrish's pamphlet. 
After a critical analysis of the three texts, he came to the conclusion that both the Long and 
the Short Versions are based on the same original text, which is in general, though not 
always, more faithfully preserved in the Long Version. 



Kokovtsov's critical survey, and particularly his publication of the manuscript facsimiles, 
virtually settled the controversy - which, anyway, affected only the Long Version, but not 
Hasdai's letter and the Short Version of the Reply. Yet a voice of dissent was raised 
from an unexpected quarter. In 1941 Poliak advanced the theory that the Khazar 
Correspondence was, not exactly a forgery, but a fictional work written in the tenth century 
with the purpose of spreading information about, or making propaganda for, the Jewish king- 
dom. 13 (It could not have been written later than the eleventh century, for, as we have seen, 
Rabbi Barzillai read the Correspondence about 1100, and Ibn Daud quoted from it in 1161). 
But this theory, plausible at first glance, was effectively demolished by Landau and Dunlop. 
Landau was able to prove that Hasdai's Letter was indeed written by his secretary Menahem 
ben-Sharuk. And Dunlop pointed out that in the Letter Hasdai asks a number of questions 
about Khazaria which J oseph fails to answer - which is certainly not the way to write an infor- 
mation pamphlet: 

There is no answer forthcoming on the part of Joseph to enquiries as to his 
method of procession to his place of worship, and as to whether war abrogates 
the Sabbath . . . There is a marked absence of correspondence between ques- 
tions of the Letter and answers given in the Reply. This should probably be 
regarded as an indication that the documents are what they purport to be and 
not a literary invention. 14 

Dunlop goes on to ask a pertinent question: 

Why the Letter of Hasdai at all, which, though considerably longer than the 
Reply of Joseph, has very little indeed about the Khazars, if the purpose of writ- 
ing it and the Reply was, as Poliak supposes, simply to give a popular account 
of Khazaria? If the Letter is an introduction to the information about the 
Khazars in the Reply, it is certainly a very curious one -full of facts about Spain 
and the Umayyads which have nothing to do with Khazaria. 15 

Dunlop then clinches the argument by a linguistic test which proves conclusively that the 
Letter and the Reply were written by different people. The proof concerns one of the marked 
characteristics of Hebrew grammar, the use of the so-called "waw- conversive", to define 
tense. I shall not attempt to explain this intricate grammatical quirk,* [The interested reader 
may consult Weingreen, J ., A Practical Grammar for Classical Hebrew, 2nd ed, (Oxford, 1959)] 
and shall instead simply quote Dunlop's tabulation of the different methods used in the 
Letter and in the Long Version to designate past action: 16 

Waw Conversive 

Simple Waw 

with Imperfect 

with Perfet 

Hasdai's Letter 



Reply (Long Version) 



In the Short Version of the Reply, the first method (Hasdai's) is used thirty-seven times, the 
second fifty times. But the Short Version uses the first method mostly in passages where the 
wording differs from the Long Version. Dunlop suggests that this is due to later Spanish edi- 
tors paraphrasing the Long Version. He also points out that Hasdai's Letter, written in 
Moorish Spain, contains manyArabisms (for instance, al-Khazarforthe Khazars), whereas the 
Reply has none. Lastly, concerning the general tenor of the Correspondence, he says: 

. . . Nothing decisive appears to have been alleged anainst the factual con- 
tents of the Reply of Joseph in its more original form, the Long Version. The 
stylistic difference supports its authenticity. It is what might be expected in 
documents emanating from widely separated parts of the Jewish world, where 
also the level of culture was by no means the same. It is perhaps allowable 
here to record the impression, for what it is worth, that in general the language 
of the Reply is less artificial, more naive, than that of the Letter. 17 

To sum up, it is difficult to understand why past historians were so reluctant to believe that 
the Khazar Kagan was capable of dictating a letter, though it was known that he corresponded 
with the Byzantine Emperor (we remember the seals of three solidi); or that pious Jews in 
Spain and Egypt should have diligently copied and preserved a message from the only J ewish 
king since biblical times. 



1 Dunlop(1954), p. 125. 

2 Landau (1942). 

3 Following Kokovtsov's test, quoted by Dunlop (1954), p. 132. 

4 Quoted by Dunlop (1954), p. 154. 

5 Quoted by Dunlop, p. 127. 

6 Kokovtsov, P(1932). 

7 Dunlop (1954), p. 230. 

8 Quoted in. Enc. Judaica, article on 'The Khazar Correspondence'. 

9 Harkavy, A. E. (1877). 

10 Harkavy (1875). 

11 Chwolson.D. A. (1882), 

12 Kokovtsov, op. cit. 

13 Poliak (1941). 

14 Dunlop (1954), p. 143. 

15 Ibid., pp. 137-8. 

16 Ibid., p, 152. 

17 Ibid., p. 153 




WHILE this book deals with past history, it unavoidably carries certain implications for 
the present and future. In the first place, I am aware of the danger that it may be mali- 
ciously misinterpreted as a denial of the State of Israel's right to exist. But that right 
is not based on the hypothetical origins of the Jewish people, nor on the mythological 
covenant of Abraham with God; it is based on international law - i.e., on the United Nations' 
decision in 1947 to partition Palestine, once a Turkish province, then a British Mandated 
Territory, into an Arab and a Jewish State. Whatever the Israeli citizens' racial origins, and 
whatever illusions they entertain about them, their State exists de jure and de facto, and can- 
not be undone, except by genocide. Without entering into controversial issues, one may add, 
as a matter of historical fact, that the partition of Palestine was the result of a century of 
peaceful Jewish immigration and pioneering effort, which provide the ethical justification for 
the State's legal existence. Whether the chromosomes of its people contain genes of Khazar 
or Semitic, Roman or Spanish origin, is irrelevant, and cannot affect Israel's right to exist - nor 
the moral obligation of any civilized person, Gentile or J ew, to defend that right. Even the geo- 
graphical origin of the native Israeli's parents or grandparents tends to be forgotten in the 
bubbling racial melting pot. The problem of the Khazar infusion a thousand years ago, how- 
ever fascinating, is irrelevant to modern Israel. 

The Jews who inhabit it, regardless of their chequered origins, possess the essential 
requirements of a nation: a country of their own, a common language, government and army. 
The Jews of the Diaspora have none of these requirements of nationhood. What sets them 
apart as a special category from the Gentiles amidst whom they live is their declared religion, 
whether they practise it or not. Here lies the basic difference between Israelis and Jews of the 
Diaspora. The former have acquired a national identity; the latter are labelled as J ews only by 
their religion - not by their nationality, not by their race. 

This, however, creates a tragic paradox, because the Jewish religion - unlike Christianity, 
Buddhism or Islam - implies membership of a historical nation, a chosen race. All J ewish fes- 
tivals commemorate events in national history: the exodus from Egypt, the Maccabean revolt, 
the death of the oppressor Haman, the destruction of the Temple. The Old Testament is first 
and foremost the narrative of a nation's history; it gave monotheism to the world, yet its 
credo is tribal rather than universal. Every prayer and ritual observance proclaims member- 
ship of an ancient race, which automatically separates the Jew from the racial and historic 
past of the people in whose midst he lives. The Jewish faith, as shown by 2000 years of 
tragic history, is nationally and socially self-segregating. It sets the Jew apart and invites his 
being set apart. It automatically creates physical and cultural ghettoes. It transformed the 
Jews of the Diaspora into a pseudo-nation without any of the attributes and privileges of 
nationhood, held together loosely by a system of traditional beliefs based on racial and his- 
torical premisses which turn out to be illusory. 

Orthodox Jewry is a vanishing minority. Its stronghold was Eastern Europe where the Nazi 
fury reached its peak and wiped them almost completely off the face of the earth. Its scat- 
tered survivors in the Western world no longer carry much influence, while the bulk of the 
orthodox communities of North Africa, the Yemen, Syria and Iraq emigrated to Israel. Thus 
orthodox Judaism in the Diaspora is dying out, and it is the vast majority of enlightened or 
agnostic Jews who perpetuate the paradox by loyally clinging to their pseudo-national status 
in the belief that it is their duty to preserve the Jewish tradition. 

It is, however, not easy to define what the term "Jewish tradition" signifies in the eyes of 
this enlightened majority, who reject the Chosen-Race doctrine of orthodoxy. That doctrine 
apart, the universal messages of the Old Testament - the enthronement of the one and invisi- 
ble God, the Ten Commandments, the ethos of the Hebrew prophets, the Proverbs and 
Psalms - have entered into the mainstream of the Judeo-Helenic-Christian tradition and 
become the common property of Jew and Gentile alike. 

After the destruction of J erusalem, the J ews ceased to have a language and secular culture 
of their own. Hebrew as a vernacular yielded to Aramaic before the beginning of the Christian 
era; the Jewish scholars and poets in Spain wrote in Arabic, others later in German, Polish, 
Russian, English and French. Certain Jewish communities developed dialects of their own, 
such as Yiddish and Ladino, but none of these produced works comparable to the impressive 
Jewish contribution to German, Austro-Hungarian or American literature. 

The main, specifically Jewish literary activity of the Diaspora was theological. Yet Talmud, 
Kabbala, and the bulky tomes of biblical exegesis are practically unknown to the contempo- 
rary J ewish public, although they are, to repeat it once more, the only relics of a specifically 
J ewish tradition - if that term is to have a concrete meaning - during the last two millennia. In 
other words, whatever came out of the Diaspora is either not specificallyj ewish, or not part of 
a living tradition. The philosophical, scientific and artistic achievements of individual Jews 
consist in contributions to the culture of their host nations; they do not represent a common 
cultural inheritance or autonomous body of traditions. 

To sum up, the J ews of our day have no cultural tradition in common, merely certain habits 
and behaviour-patterns, derived by social inheritance from the traumatic experience of the 
ghetto, and from a religion which the majority does not practise or believe in, but which never- 


theless confers on them a pseudo-national status. Obviously -as I have argued elsewhere 1 - 
the long-term solution of the paradox can only be emigration to Israel or gradual assimilation 
to their host nations. Before the holocaust, this process was in full swing; and in 1975 Time 
Magazine reported 2 that American Jews "tend to marry outside their faith at a high rate; 
almost one-third of all marriages are mixed". 

Nevertheless the lingering influence of Judaism's racial and historical message, though 
based on illusion, acts as a powerful emotional break by appealing to tribal loyalty. It is in this 
context that the part played by the thirteenth tribe in ancestral history becomes relevant to 
the Jews of the Diaspora. Yet, as already said, it is irrelevant to modern Israel, which has 
acquired a genuine national identity. It is perhaps symbolic that Abraham Poliak, a professor 
of history at Tel Aviv University and no doubt an Israeli patriot, made a major contribution to 
our knowledge of J ewry's Khazar ancestry, undermining the legend of the Chosen Race. It may 
also be significant that the native Israeli "Sabra" represents, physically and mentally, the 
complete opposite of the "typical Jew", bred in the ghetto. 


1 Koestler(1955). 

2 March 10, 1975. 


The Thirteenth Tribe 

Arthur Koes tier 

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